Press release

Innovative Approaches to Canadian Municipal Infrastructure Celebrated by International Think Tank

May 8, 2024

Three municipalities within Canada are being recognized as leaders when it comes to innovative approaches to natural infrastructure benefiting the municipality, the environment, and providing many economic advantages.

A new report released by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a think tank headquartered in Winnipeg, MB, recognizes that the City of Nelson, British Columbia; the Halifax Regional Municipality, and EPCOR in the City of Edmonton, are taking the lead on working with nature to help meet infrastructure needs. The three are highlighted in the report as models for other cities, showcasing effective policy changes in different administrative, jurisdictional, and geographic settings.

Climate change will strain existing municipal infrastructure that provides the services we all need—flood and drought protection, drinking water, and wastewater treatment. Typically, these services rely on grey infrastructure such as dams, pipes, and treatment facilities. However, some municipalities are leading the way forward by complementing the above with natural infrastructure such as wetlands, trees, grasslands, and rain gardens to enhance service delivery.

When compared to large urban centres that tend to have greater staff capacity, the City of Nelson is successfully implementing natural infrastructure, regardless of limitations. With strategic bylaws, such as The Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw, the city is promoting the use of natural infrastructure approaches—including rain gardens, bioretention swales, and constructed wetlands—for improved stormwater management.

The Halifax Regional Municipality embeds natural infrastructure across its suite of policy and planning mechanisms, trickling into lower-level plans like HalifACT. This climate change plan specifies the need to “protect, restore, maintain, and expand natural areas and green infrastructure assets.”

Guided by HalifACT and with funding for the Natural Infrastructure Fund, 555 metres of cobble beach will be restored with native vegetation, a breakwater, and a raised permeable waterfront trail along Shore Road. With the use of natural infrastructure, the area will be more resilient to extreme weather, reducing severe erosion, road washouts, and closures.

EPCOR, based in the City of Edmonton, takes an integrated approach to stormwater management, with approximately 59% of a CAD 1.6 billion investment going toward natural infrastructure over 30 years. That’s a huge savings for the City of Edmonton when compared to exclusively using grey infrastructure. The previous plan, which relied on grey infrastructure, was estimated to cost between CAD 2.2 billion and CAD 4.6 billion over 80 years and was less effective at reducing flood risk.

By partnering with the City of Edmonton to share the cost, operation, and maintenance of natural infrastructure, EPCOR is leading the way in normalizing natural infrastructure by increasing knowledge, on-the-ground projects, and skilled professionals.

Natural infrastructure can help provide essential water infrastructure services at a fraction of the cost of grey infrastructure, helping municipalities meet important water-related needs while working alongside nature.

“The featured jurisdictions in our report show that regardless of size, municipalities can develop solutions and successfully work with nature to meet infrastructure needs,” says Ashley Rawluk, co-author of the report and policy advisor with IISD’s Water Program and Natural Infrastructure for Water Solutions (NIWS) initiative. “These solutions infrastructure benefits, but also can benefit communities in other social, economic, and environmental ways. These are three bright spots in Canada which we hope will inspire others.”

The full report, as well as a summary, can be found here.

More on the Natural Infrastructure for Water Solutions Initiative

IISD has launched the NIWS initiative to better support the implementation of natural infrastructure on Canada’s Prairies—for cleaner water and more resilient communities. Natural infrastructure allows us to plan and work with nature to help meet infrastructure needs. NIWS hopes to take the idea of natural infrastructure from novel to normal, championing water infrastructure solutions in rural communities, cities, and government planning processes.

About IISD

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 250 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.

Press release details