Wetlands focus needed

By Lindsay Advocate

Ken Reid Conservation Area. Photo: Roderick Benns.

Ever since the province passed their not-so-poetically entitled More Homes Built Faster Act, it’s as if wetlands and conservation areas in Ontario are now an afterthought.

As we featured in the May Advocate, wetlands — both local and provincial — are in decline, mainly because of population sprawl.

Josh Feltham, professor of environmental science at Fleming College, points out that wetlands are like sponges, soaking up excess rain and snow melt. And since they release it slowly, this helps maintain our stream flows and aquifer levels during droughts.

If we keep paving over these sponges, there will be less absorption and more proclivity for flooding.

Angela Coleman is the general manager of Conservation Ontario, the group that advocates for all 36 conservation authorities. As she told CBC News last year, the new bill could mean interconnected watersheds, wetlands and natural areas are dealt with in a fragmented way since more power is being shifted to municipalities which will have their own interests top of mind.

Coleman said there could be “unintended consequences” if the work done by 36 conservation authorities shifts to 444 municipalities of different sizes and staffing levels. “Municipal boundaries aren’t necessarily the most effective way to plan for, for example, how upstream development would impact the downstream community,” she told CBC.

As Ontario Nature’s website points out, wetlands enhance landscape resilience to many of the anticipated impacts of climate change, too, including flooding, drought and the loss of biodiversity. They also play a critical role in carbon storage.

Since they act as a kind of natural infrastructure, wetlands contribute over $50 billion in economic benefits for Ontarians each year.

There’s still time for the government to understand this and make the needed legislative changes to protect our environment. We certainly understand the need for more places to live; this is not in question. But there are ways to enhance our housing supply without causing environmental damage on this scale.

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