These Canadian organizations are calling on lake associations to help build resilience to flooding

huntsville-flooding Photo by Mary Anne Love/Shutterstock

Climate change is bringing more frequent and intense flooding, a trend that those in cottage country know well.

According to a recent survey from WWF Canada and RSA Canada, a coalition of insurers, close to half of Canadians don’t know how to protect their homes from flooding. Almost a third anticipate experiencing flooding in the next year.

Consequently, WWF Canada and RSA Canada has joined together to urge stakeholders, such as lake associations, to take steps to build preparedness and resilience so that flooding, when it does occur, causes less damage to properties and ecosystems.

Cottage Life got Simon Mitchell, lead specialist freshwater with the WWF Canada on the line to ask what he’d like to see lake associations do:

Cottage Life: What can lake associations do to help cottagers be prepared for flooding and reduce impact?

Simon Mitchell: Lake associations are a mechanism for cottage owners to engage with one another. Having that piece of human infrastructure is an important first step because it opens lines of communication and gives folks a chance to share ideas. We need lake associations and residents around lakes to be thinking about the broader picture of their lake and what’s happening there. The tendency when we’re talking about flooding is to talk about the first line of defence.

CL: Which is?

SM: That would be people’s residences and do they have downspouts diverted, do they have rain gardens in place, do they have sump pumps. That’s all very important stuff but really we need to be looking at the broader watershed level.

CL: Which is lake associations?

SM: Which is looking collectively at watersheds to make sure they’re functioning properly and if they not functioning, are [associations] undertaking restoration activity that will allow those wetlands around the lake to absorb and retain water when excessive amounts appear on the landscape. Another important thing to look at is the integrity of the shoreline. We all like to look out and see the river or the lake, but by clearing trees and yards and shorelines, we are increasing the rate at which water moves off the landscape and enters rivers and lakes. Those shorelines need to be intact, they need to be vegetated.

CL: I know lake associations have been beating the drum for years about shoreline restoration. What more can they be doing?

SM: Education has often taken the form of pamphlets and brochures, passive materials, let’s say. As people start to adapt and restore shorelines and wetlands, [lake associations could consider] field trips, or a day where people get out and see what their neighbours have done. When you’re standing on somebody’s waterfront or you’re participating in a wetlands restoration, you gain a much more intimate understanding of the importance of that sort of work and how it can contribute to addressing flood-related issues.

This requires behavioural change that can take some time. And time is of the essence so talking with neighbours and developing a pilot project — can you support a tree planting day or a shoreline restoration day? — gets people out not only seeing the work but participating in the work.

CL: Why did you partner with RSA Canada on this initiative?

SM: The science is in. We’re going to see increased frequency and intensity of rain storms. There’s going to be impact on snow melt. Now is the time to be acting. If we want to be successful and have healthy and resilient watersheds, we all need to be pulling the same direction. Lake associations can be a convening body to help [cottagers] undertake activities that will benefit them and nature as well.


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