Press release

More investment in natural infrastructure could lead to 25% more jobs and 16% growth in GDP for Prairies: New report

November 15, 2023

WINNIPEG, November 15, 2023 – Natural infrastructure contributes over CAD 4 billion annually to the economy of Canada's Prairies, as well as tens of thousands of jobs. There's still room for growth: more investment can build greater resilience to droughts, floods, fires, and other severe weather impacts—many of which afflicted the region this summer—as well as increase jobs and GDP.

This is according to a new report released today by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a Winnipeg-based think tank, in collaboration with Delphi. The report shows greater investment is needed in natural infrastructure to increase prosperity on the Prairies.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, it is estimated this sector directly employed more than 33,000 people and contributed over CAD 4.1 billion to Prairie-wide GDP in 2022. With additional investments across the Prairie provinces of CAD 40 million to CAD 100 million per year, the sector could see between 18% and 25% direct job growth by 2030.

According to IISD's research, natural infrastructure can help by providing essential water infrastructure services at a fraction of the cost of grey infrastructure. This is important across the Prairies, but especially in rural areas; the agriculture sector, which was hit hard by drought this year; and the insurance sector.

"Natural infrastructure can help meet important water-related needs, for example, in helping protect against flooding or drought or helping to treat stormwater or wastewater," explains Josée Méthot, Senior Water Policy Specialist with IISD.

"In order to implement more projects, we need to invest in the people doing the work. Whether conserving landscapes, restoring waterways, or building with nature in urban areas, the Canadian Prairies need more investment in natural infrastructure."

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. The sector employs a variety of workers, including landscape architects, ecologists, urban planners, stormwater managers, and environmental consultants.

For this report, researchers focused on the economic impact this sector can have across the Canadian Prairies.

"This report shows that investment in this sector will not only multiply the positive impact of natural infrastructure across the Prairies but can also drive broader economic growth," said Ben Clark, Director of Green Economy at Delphi.

"We also found that boosting investment in the natural infrastructure can provide real dividends to people across the Prairies—more jobs and higher GDP, better infrastructure, and an increase in resilience."

"We have municipalities across the Prairies that are struggling to keep pace with water infrastructure needs," Méthot added. "A greater investment in this sector will not only improve the lives of those on the Prairies but also provide more employment and add to the provincial GDP. Investing more in natural infrastructure just makes natural sense."

Several communities across the Prairies have implemented and had success with natural infrastructure projects, as outlined in the report. Projects include the following:

  • The town of Okotoks, Alberta, installed a bioretention bed with underground water storage that supplies a solar-powered irrigation system. It reduces impurities in stormwater and reduces water demand.
  • The Dry Lake project in the Gooseberry watershed (130 km southeast of Regina, Saskatchewan) saw 73 landowners over 18,000 acres work together to install 30 staging culverts to help control spring water release on agriculture fields and aid in the restoration and retention of the wetland habitat.
  • Pelly's Lake, an engineered wetland in Manitoba, which provides CAD 2 million annually in clean water and flood protection benefits.
  • Winnipeg's urban tree canopy, which covers 17% of the city and provides CAD 3.23 million annually in stormwater management by reducing runoff due to absorption.

IISD launched the NIWS initiative to bring together natural infrastructure experts from across the Prairies. The intention is to better support the implementation of natural infrastructure with a network of experts and resources and to engage with governments to develop stronger policies, investments, and decision-making processes to ensure that Canada's Prairie provinces are properly equipped to manage and maintain their water infrastructure. 


For more information or to schedule an interview to discuss these findings, please contact:

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.

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