Floods from Canada’s most threatened river

A 2009 report from WWF Canada, formerly the World Wildlife Fund Canada, identifies the South Saskatchewan River as Canada’s most threatened:

Heavy exploitation and an arid climate have made the South Saskatchewan River Canada’s most threatened river in terms of environmental flows. In some areas, more water is allocated for use than is available and the river almost runs dry.

Yet this is the river, and particularly its upper reaches, the Bow River and the Elbow River, that has recently cause such devastating floods in Calgary and in other Alberta and Saskatchewan communities. The report, Canada’s Rivers at Risk: Environmental Flows and Canada’s Freshwater Future points out that

Flow regulation and fragmentation by dams, locks, and weirs have altered flows and water levels, and species are suffering;

Water withdrawals and diversions for cities and agriculture are drawing down rivers, some to dangerous levels;

Climate change is altering the entire context of water management, as glaciers melt, precipitation patterns shift, and droughts and floods become more frequent and intense.

The picture painted by the report is one of significant poor management of our river resources, though governments do seem to be taking a little more notice now than in the past. The report concludes that Canada, unlike many countries, still has the opportunity to avert a national water crisis by keeping rivers flowing, for nature and for people – but only if we take immediate action:

  • Take aggressive action on climate change. Be part of the global solution to stopping climate change by helping to create and implement a fair, effective, and science-based global agreement, while reducing Canadian emissions and protecting rivers here at home as the climate changes.
  • Keep water use within nature’s limits. Maintain water withdrawals within each watershed’s sustainable limits and prohibit interbasin transfers that move water from one watershed to another.
  • Change the flow. Design and operate dams and other instream infrastructure to better balance nature’s needs (the flow regimes required to sustain healthy rivers) with human needs for hydropower, navigation, flood control, and water storage.

WWF states that acting on these three key steps will require changes to how we manage fresh water in Canada. We will need to focus on whole watersheds, applying the principles of Integrated River Basin Management to ensure coordination of the conservation, management, and development of fresh water. Federal and provincial governments must lead the way, collaborating with a broad range of stakeholders, to protect and restore environmental flows and river health as a foundation of a secure freshwater future for Canada.

The 28 page report, and a larger technical summary, can be found at http://www.wwf.ca/newsroom/reports/forests_freshwater/. A brief press summary is at http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/freshwater/riversatrisk/




Homeowner insurance in flood situations

In every other G8 country homeowners can purchase insurance against the effects of ‘overland flood’ but not in Canada. Canadian home insurance policies generally include coverage for sewer backup and perhaps for burst water pipes, but when your home is flooded by overflowing rivers, storm surges, or torrential rains you are out of luck, reliant only on government disaster relief. Apparently most Canadians do not know this.

In 2010 the Ontario-based and insurance industry funded, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, with help from the global re-insurer Swiss Re, published a discussion paper Making Flood Insurable for Canadian Homeowners. This was followed up by a presentation from ICLR Managing Director Glenn McGillivray.

The reason that Canadians cannot buy flood insurance for their homes seems somewhat cloudy but factors may include that flood mapping is not sufficient in Canada for insurers to properly evaluate risks and that governments like to be seen to be dispensing largesse in times of disaster.

In GallonDaily’s opinion neither is a satisfactory rationale. As the ICLR report points out, one good reason for allowing homeowners to purchase flood insurance is that it brings them face to face with the flood risk faced by their chosen home. Canadian municipalities and provinces need to face the reality that building on flood plains is just plain stupid. Allowing home buyers to face the reality of paying for flood insurance will help bring that message home to voters. Sustainable development means minimizing risks, not putting homes in the path of natural disaster.

The 61 page report Making Flood Insurable for Canadian Homeowners is available at http://www.iclr.org/images/Making_Flood_Insurable_for_Canada.pdf

Glenn McGillivray provides an excellent summary at http://www.iclr.org/images/Flood_insurance_speech_Nov_2011.pdf

Win our 500th anniversary prize

GallonDaily’s 500th article will be published on GallonDaily.com this week. In celebration we are giving 500 grams of organic fair trade chocolate to one lucky reader.

All you have to do to win is visit GallonDaily.com on the day that the 500th column is published. Full details on how to win – very simple – will be published on that day but we are not announcing in advance which day it will be. You have to enter on that day, from 12.01am to 11.59pm Eastern Daylight Time. There will be no obligation and no purchase required – the only requirement is that you visit GallonDaily.com on the day of the 500th column. Note that in defining our 500th column we are excluding purely administrative notices such as this which appear occasionally on GallonDaily.com.

So watch out for our 500th anniversary column and be prepared to answer a very simple skill testing question. Draw open only to residents of Canada, the United States, and the UK. Persons associated with GallonDaily or Gallon Environment Letter not eligible!

Calgary floods: mitigation recommendations already prepared and ignored

Following big disasters governments frequently set up commissions or inquiries to study what happened, why it happened, and what should be done to ensure that it never happens again.

In the case of the Calgary flood, that’s already been done. Following the 2005 Calgary area floods, much less severe than the 2013 floods in the same area, the government established a Flood Mitigation Committee led by G. Groeneveld, MLA for Highwood, and consisting of representatives from Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, Alberta Environment and Alberta Municipal Affairs.

The Committee completed its work in 2006 but it took until 2012 for the government to release the report. The key elements of the strategy are:

  • making resources available to make informed decisions about flood risks,
  • providing support to municipalities through guidelines, regulations and programs to limit future developments in flood prone areas, and
  • continuing to provide technical expertise to municipalities for river and lake related flooding.

The resources required for implementing the all recommendations were estimated at $306 million, a pittance compared to the costs of this year’s floods.

For reasons that we plan to explore in a future issue of Gallon Environment Letter, governments, and, to some extent, voters most frequently choose to ignore potential risks, at least until they happen again!

In this particular case, the costs to the government are only part of the consequences that would lead a government to ignore the recommendations. Publishing flood risk maps would highlight how many properties already exist in flood prone areas. Voters would likely not want to have their properties thus identified. People love to live on the banks of oceans, lakes and rivers, so restricting development in such areas would offend many voters and the developers who are holding waterside properties for future development. We will explore some of these issues in future columns.

Meanwhile, we commend to your attention the Alberta Provincial Flood Mitigation Report available at http://www.aema.alberta.ca/images/News/Provincial_Flood_Mitigation_Report.pdf

The actual flood mitigation strategy, sensible for any area of potential flooding, is in Appendix C of the report. AEMA is the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Wind company addresses wind power myths

At long last, the world’s largest wind turbine company is taking on some, hopefully all, of the false information about wind turbines being spread by the technology’s critics. Hopefully some of the other wind turbine manufacturers and operators will join the cause.

The world’s wind industry is being hammered by groups that are arguing that wind power is harmful to public health, the environment, endangered species, farm animals, and many more issues. Their evidence is at best anecdotal and usually highly suspect. However, no one from government or from the industry has been willing to take on these claims and opposition to wind energy has grown very rapidly.

Now Vestas Wind Systems A/S, based in Denmark, has launched an “Act on Facts campaign”, saying “Don’t let myths dictate our future”. The campaign is starting in Australia, which the Company says is a hot-bed of anti-wind activity. The launch event earlier this month at the University of Melbourne featured a panel discussion about the tactics used by anti-wind energy activist groups and what the wind industry can do to counter the wild claims and convert the quiet majority of wind energy supporters into active campaigners.

Vestas Group Senior Vice President Morten Albæk is quoted as stating “It is important to distinguish between genuine local concerns and the increasingly professional anti-wind activists whose strategy seems designed to confuse and inflame the debate. “Act on Facts” is a bold stroke to counter that strategy. Veering off the well-trodden public relations path entails risks. But playing it safe is even riskier.”

GallonDaily is concerned that the Vestas campaign may be too little too late but it is still better to do something than to do nothing if the global potential for renewable energy is to be realized. Hopefully other wind energy companies will quickly realize that their future viability depends on winning over public opinion in areas where wind energy resources exist.

Vestas has 36% of the wind turbine market in Canada, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

The Vestas announcement of the campaign is at http://www.vestas.com/en/media/news/news-display.aspx?action=3&NewsID=3294

A 13 minute interview with  Morten Albæk  is available on World News Network at http://article.wn.com/view/2013/06/18/Vestas_launches_Act_on_Facts_campaign_in_battle_against_anti/#/video

The Act on Facts campaign web site is at http://www.actonfacts.org

Increased composting can be a driver of local economic growth

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington DC based non-governmental organization that challenges the concept that bigger is better, has published an excellent report which demonstrates that composting and compost use can have numerous benefits in addition to green job creation and reducing the amount of waste destined for landfill. The report, Pay Dirt, is based an a state of Maryland, population 5.9 million, case study but clearly has continental, if not global, application.

The study illustrates that composting and compost use:

  • reduce waste
  • improve soil
  • reduce stormwater runoff & soil erosion
  • protect climate
  • create jobs & supports local economies

While all sections of this report are likely to be of interest to municipalities and private sector compost operators and advocates, GallonDaily’s attention was particularly drawn to the section on jobs and economic growth.  That section points out that

  • composting can be small-scale and local
  • jobs are local
  • composting is linked to urban farm production
  • composting can diversify farm products and increase farm income
  • compost products tend to be used locally
  • use of compost products sustains additional businesses and green jobs

Other related findings that are likely to be of broad relevance:

  • On a per-ton basis, composting in Maryland sustains twice the number of jobs as landfills and four times the number of jobs as incinerators.
  • Composting systems – even the high-tech ones – do not require the same level of capital investment as landfills or incinerators.

The report, which is packed with data, an Executive Summary, and supporting documents can be found at http://www.ilsr.org/paydirt/

Climate change and supply chain risk

A new journal article from PwC’s global climate change network is written from a European perspective but has relevance to companies around the world. The article states that “Anticipating and responding to risks is business-as-usual for all sectors. . . . industries are no strangers to dealing with the risks of supply-chain disruption, both man-made (export restrictions) and natural (weather, drought, etc.). What is changing is the complexity of the risks, their interdependence with other risks and the wide-reaching, contagious impact they have. But the other major factor set to exacerbate supply-chain risk is climate change. Often overlooked, climate change adds to complexity. It amplifies or alters existing risks, for example raw material availability (e.g. water, energy) or transport disruption due to extreme weather events. The resulting shocks on the global supply chain can be severe and persistent.

The authors have studied agricultural, energy, and mining supply chains. They have concluded that climate change impacts will likely be greatest on global commodity food supply chains though all international supply chains are likely to be affected. They recommend that:

  • Businesses need to identify not just the risks emerging from the impacts of climate change, but how the resulting impacts interact with existing risks.
  • Governments and the business community need to start considering risk management plans in a world with a climate change of not just two degrees C, but also four degrees C or even 6 degrees C. Effects are already being felt in some regions and they are projected to worsen globally.
  • Competition for scarce resources may intensify, and can be compounded by political and economic developments. Developing a collaborative and sustainable resource management strategy at a global level can help avoid the risks of ‘resource grab’ and conflicts.

The article is available at http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/governance-risk-compliance-consulting-services/resilience/publications/business-not-as-usual.jhtml by clicking on Download a PDF of this article. Resilience: A Journal of strategy and risk is a PwC publication.

Parkbus – a great way to go wilderness camping

With more and more city folks choosing to live without a car, the matter of getting away to the wilderness for a week or weekend of camping has become a serious challenge. A nongovernmental organization, the Transportation Options Association of Ontario, has designed and implemented a solution. Called Parkbus, this is a weekend bus service from Toronto and Ottawa to camping and canoeing locations in Algonquin Park, the Bruce Peninsula, and other locations in central Ontario.

GallonDaily commends the Transportation Options Association of Ontario for this very worthwhile initiative. Not only is it a great way for car-less families, and those who prefer not to drive the congested roads to ‘cottage country’, to reach central and northern Ontario camping with the help of a professional driver but it is also an illustration of how non-governmental groups can help expand Canada’s public transit system. We do not have to leave everything transit to our governments.

The initiative does illustrate that one of the challenges for non-government transportation services will be the fare. The round trip fare from Toronto to Algonquin Park on Parkbus is $83.98 for an adult and $41.98 for a child under 12. A family of four will face a fare of just over $250 for the round trip, plus provincial park camping fees and canoe rental if desired. This is not yet opening the wilderness family camping experience to low income people, but with the bus service already in place maybe there is an opportunity for businesses to provide contests and subsidies that will help enable low income families to experience Canada’s great outdoors. Mountain Equipment Coop is already providing generous discounts on camping equipment rentals for Parkbus ticket holders.

Details of the Parkbus, including routes, schedules, and fares, are available at http://www.parkbus.ca/

A Gallondaily anniversary draw

Sometime in the next 5 to 10 days GallonDaily will celebrate its 500th anniversary – 500 columns!

To mark this special anniversary we will be awarding the traditional Gallon Environment Letter draw prize – 500 grams of organic fair trade chocolate.

All you have to do to win is visit GallonDaily.com on the day that the 500th column is published. Full details on how to win – very simple – will be published that day and only that day. There will be no obligation and no purchase required – the only requirement is that you visit GallonDaily.com on the day of the 500th column.

So watch out for our 500th anniversary column and be prepared to answer a very simple skill testing question. Draw open only to residents of Canada, the United States, and the UK. Persons associated with GallonDaily or Gallon Environment Letter not eligible!

Watch out for the GallonDaily 500th anniversary draw!

International Energy Agency proposes immediate climate change measures

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous international organization with 28 national members, including Canada, and a mandate to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy. In recent years it has frequently engaged with the issue of climate change. This month it has issued a special report offering its advice on how to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the internationally agreed target, without harming economic growth.

The IEA special report points out that the energy sector is the single largest source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Although the deployment of renewables is already broadly on track towards the ambitious level required to deliver their expected contribution to meeting long-term climate targets, much wider adoption of efficiency measures will be necessary to fulfill the energy efficiency expectations of a scenario consistent with the achievement of the international 2 °C climate target.

Describing its 2020 plan as the 4-for-2 °C Scenario, the report proposes:

  • Targeted specific energy efficiency improvements in the industry, buildings and transport sectors.
  • Limiting the use and construction of inefficient coal-fired power plants.
  • Minimizing methane emissions in upstream oil and gas production.
  • Further partial phase out of fossil-fuels subsidies to end-users.

Only the second of these has to date been fully adopted in Canada.

For the beyond 2020 period, the report looks at:

  • early adoption of low carbon technologies.
  • carbon capture and storage, something which currently comes with significant challenges; and
  • carbon pricing, an essential component of a post-2020 scenario.

This well-written 116 page analysis lays out very clearly the industry-impacting initiatives that can be expected if the global commitment to limit ourselves to a 2 °C climate target is to be met. This recommended reading for all policy makers, industry leaders, and environmentally-interested citizens, titled Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, can be found at http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2013/june/name,38773,en.html