An ounce of prevention: implement water strategy now
originally published in the Chronicle Herald, Thursday, Jan 27, 2011
By FRED WENDT
Premier Darrell Dexter recently announced a $5.6-million assistance program, shared with the federal government, to cover some of the costs of damage left by extensive flooding, mostly in southwestern Nova Scotia, after last November’s heavy rain storm. Of course, such help is needed by those affected. But more importantly, the announcement shows the urgent need to avoid damage in the first place.
A good place to start would be with the Nova Scotia Water Resource Management Strategy. This strategy, released late last year, represents the province’s guide for the use and protection of fresh water in Nova Scotia, whether for drinking, recreation, agricultural, industrial or other uses.
The strategy, too, could help us protect flood plains and watersheds to reduce the type of flood damage we are seeing increasingly in Nova Scotia. For example, preserving natural buffers along water courses reduces both the volume and speed of storm run-off, which in turn eases downstream flooding.
Unfortunately, the strategy is short on specifics about how water and watersheds should actually be managed or protected. And the timelines for the actions identified in the document do not demonstrate any sense of urgency.
In the strategy, "Actions for Today," such as assessing buffers along water courses, will be carried out "over the next several years." Some initiatives will be considered "Tomorrow" and in the "Future" — possibly a long way off, indeed.
However, the water strategy can be an opportunity for the provincial government to show leadership and do the work necessary to reduce damage from future flooding.
The province recognizes that because of climate change, severe weather events will be more frequent. The government could begin looking closely at how we treat watersheds and how we manage storm water to reduce run-off after a heavy rain by, for example, using nature’s capacity to absorb rainwater and avoid having it flow downstream all at once.
The province needs to work on prevention rather than after-the-fact fixes. The many actions in the water strategy need to be implemented as soon as possible. Coupled with the strategy must be strong regulation — the teeth necessary to protect Nova Scotians and their water resources. A small investment in the work needed now could pay big dividends in damage prevention: a bridge not washed away or a community not isolated by flooding.
Although disaster relief is sometimes necessary, a much better headline would read: "Government invests in flood damage prevention." I bet those who had to bail out their basements last fall would agree.
Fred Wendt is the water co-ordinator with Ecology Action Centre.