Funding for Canadian Prairies’ water infrastructure urgently needed, but nature offers innovative solutions—new report
WINNIPEG, May 10, 2023–The water infrastructure upon which millions of Canadians in the Prairie provinces depend—from pipes to wastewater treatment facilities—is aging and depreciating at an alarming rate. However, natural infrastructure (NI) can offer a practical and cost-effective solution when scaled up and adopted across all levels of government.
This is all according to a new report released today by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a Winnipeg-based think tank.
The report argues that communities across the Prairies face pervasive water infrastructure challenges, and the stress put on these systems due to the impacts of climate change—including natural disasters, such as flooding, drought, and wildfires—is making the situation worse.
According to IISD, natural infrastructure can help by providing essential water infrastructure services at a fraction of the cost of grey infrastructure while also improving the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change.
“We need to up our game,” said Dimple Roy, Director, Water Management, IISD.
“With the pressures facing water systems across the Prairies, we need a renewed focus on water management and infrastructure,” said Roy.
“We found that natural infrastructure can help to bridge the gap, with many promising examples across the Prairies. It’s less expensive, easier to maintain, and comes with many other benefits to communities. But, if we are going to address the water infrastructure gap, we need to adopt natural infrastructure solutions at a larger scale. And soon.”
Several communities across the Prairies have implemented and had success with natural infrastructure projects, as outlined in the report. This includes:
- 6.6 million acres of restored and conserved wetlands and natural habitat under Ducks Unlimited Canada’s care across Canada, estimated to provide more than CAD 5.31 billion in ecosystem services annually, including water supply, wastewater treatment, and water purification.
- Pelly’s Lake, an engineered wetland in Manitoba, provides CAD 2 million annually in clean water and flood protection benefits.
- Winnipeg’s urban tree canopy covers 17% of the city. It provides CAD 3.23 million annually in stormwater management by reducing runoff due to absorption from trees.
Smaller communities and networks in the Prairies, such as Okotoks in Alberta, Avonlea in Saskatchewan, Sagkeeng First Nation, and Dunnottar in Manitoba have also implemented NI projects. However, smaller communities typically face an uphill battle in putting these projects in motion, with less capacity to implement, a lack of policy direction to focus on these types of solutions, and the fact that funding often favours shovel-ready projects.
"To see more natural infrastructure on the Prairies, we need to ensure adequate and more accessible funding and to enact policies at all levels of government that make it easier for those who want to implement natural infrastructure to do so—including smaller municipalities, rural counties, Indigenous communities, agricultural producers, industry, and investors,” said Roy.
“To speak to the business sector, we also need to make a stronger business case to show why NI is a cost-effective and impactful option that provides a clear return on investment,” she added.
Natural infrastructure involves the conservation, restoration, or enhancement of natural landscapes to provide specific results. For example, wetlands can naturally house excess water during floods, green roofs can help manage runoff, and forests, grasslands, and restored stream banks can replenish groundwater, mitigate flood- and drought-related risks, support fisheries, and provide opportunities for recreation.
IISD has launched the Natural Infrastructure for Water Solutions (NIWS) initiative, bringing together NI experts from across the prairies. The intention is to better support the implementation of NI with a network of experts and resources, and to engage with governments to develop stronger policies, investments and decision-making processes that ensure Canada's Prairie provinces are better equipped to manage and maintain their water infrastructure.
For more information or to schedule an interview to discuss these findings, please contact:
Editorial and Communications Manager, IISD Experimental Lakes Area,
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 200 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.
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