Major spring floods impacted communities in Eastern Canada recently, as historic flooding caused widespread damage and evacuations, with some fatalities. Many who live within the Lake Ontario, Ottawa and St. Lawrence drainage systems were affected. A joint Canada-US board warns of more to come.
Heavy rains and melting snowpack flooded over 2,000 homes in Quebec. The St. Lawrence River spilled its banks to historic levels, flooding Montreal and Trois-Rivieres and its surrounding areas. Some of the heaviest flooding occurred in the Ottawa River in Gatineau. The Ottawa River at Gatineau rose several metres above normal levels, reaching record levels and flooding hundreds of homes. Levels in Lake Ontario hit record highs in April. April was one of the top three wettest Aprils on record since 1900, in terms of flowing into Lake Ontario.
“A record-setting snowstorm in late March probably added to the flooding,” writes Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail. “Combined with a heavier snow pack and mostly cool April temperatures, the spring melt in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec has taken longer than in a typical year. With rivers and streams already surging with melted snow and overflowing water tables saturating the ground, it doesn’t take much rain to cause mayhem. And there’s been lots and lots of rain.”
Elsewhere in Canada, in New Brunswick Atlantic Canada, the St John River spilled its banks after 150 millimetres of rain fell in a 36-hour downpour. British Columbia, on the other side of the country, has recently suffered flooding and mudslides.
“While I know that individual weather events can vary,” says Alex Tetreault of the National Observer, “there’s no denying that these sorts of events are becoming more frequent because of our changing climate.”
Climate Change Increases Extreme Weather Events
Scientists agree that extreme weather resulting in flooding will become more frequent in some regions as climate change accelerates. While we normally view and report climate change on a global and decades scale, it is experienced on a local and day-to-day scale through weather patterns and events.
“We’ve changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans with our greenhouse gases,” says climate scientist Paul Beckwith at the University of Ottawa. While these large scale changes are reflected in globally increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperatures, their effects express regionally in unique ways–which is why some feel increased temperatures and drought, while others experience increased torrential rain. This is no paradox; this is weather.
Climate Change Is About Water
Because climate is essentially a water-driven phenomenon, we see the most obvious impacts of climate change in water events: torrential rainfall; hurricanes; tornadoes; melting polar ice or permafrost; sea level rise and ocean acidification; atmospheric rivers and associated deluges; the great oceanic current; drought, wind storms and heat.
Given that much of our Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waters are shared with our southern neighbour, it was disconcerting that a Trump administration budget proposal suggested completely defunding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which cleans industrial pollution in the lakes—leaving all the cleanup to Canada. The funding was saved in the latest US budget bill—at least for now.
When US Regulators Turn Into Lobbyists
It is rather alarming and disheartening that the US EPA—comprised of intelligent scientists whose central mission is to protect US and joint Canadian-US waters (such as the Great Lakes) is now administered by a pro-industry (pro-deregulation) climate denier (Scott Pruitt), whose first step once in office was to remove key regulations aimed at limiting emissions that cause global warming and reducing pollution in US rivers, streams and wetlands.
Pruitt currently “regulates” the very companies with whom he previously collaborated; companies that had lobbied against regulations that required upgrading or removal of outmoded and highly polluting coal-powered power plants, control of methane emissions, limitation of smog-causing chemicals and use of hydraulic fracturing. The US Environment Protection Agency has also removed a climate change section from its website “to reflect EPA’s priorities under … President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.”
And we know what that priority and vision is.
The Canadian Vision
Meantime, (while America appears preoccupied in a shortsighted pursuit of money for a few) in Canada, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna advises that Canadian firms prepare for how they will cope with the effects of climate change, including more unpredictable and extreme weather events.
Beckwith joins other Canadian scientists in urging municipalities to upgrade their infrastructure to improve drainage, including a city’s storm water management system. “It’s just a matter of time before [flooding] happens to just about every city the way climate change is accelerating,” warns Beckwith. Given that many cities are located on a floodplain, I’d bet on that prediction.
To find out what some Canadian municipalities and individuals are doing, see my articles on storm water runoff and management:
Calming Unruly Urban Waters
Tasking Citizens to Manage their Storm Water Runoff
What Watershed Do You Live In? And Why Should You Care?
Why Stormwater Fees Are Necessary
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.