As New Brunswick communities brace themselves for the potential of a third consecutive catastrophic flooding this spring, our provincial government is starting meetings this week to talk about how successful their climate plan has been. It’s the first week of hearings of the new Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship formed in December 2019.
The key messages will be “resiliency” and “adaptation,” rather than putting a stop to the unregulated destruction of the wetlands and forests upstream from our communities.
Meanwhile, one infilled wetland at a time, one clearcut forest at a time, one steep slope and deer yard at a time, and one herbicide-sprayed monoculture softwood plantation at a time, our New Brunswick politicians are sleepwalking into another catastrophic flood season.
US President Donald Trump is now allowing the same destruction of our watersheds as we have allowed in New Brunswick. On January 23, 2020, the Trump Administration officially announced the removal of federal protection for approximately one-half of all wetlands and a large percentage of all streams in the country.
To remind our elected politicians, here is a quick summary of the systematic dismantling of our environmental protection of wetlands, rivers, and clean water in general:
March 2011: David Alward’s PC government removed more than one-half of our wetlands from the maps issued by the Department of Environment & Local Government and GeoNB. Even though these wetlands still exist, and the laws protecting wetlands remain in place, the politicians, municipalities, building developers, and forestry companies can now practice willful blindness, pretend the wetlands do not exist, and destroy them – essentially breaking the law when destroying these wetlands.
July 2011: The government notified 19 watershed groups across New Brunswick that their ongoing project work to develop a Water Classification Program was cancelled. This eliminated the work of tens of thousands of volunteer hours by these watershed groups, and millions of dollars of government spending over 25 years to implement this program.
December 2017: Brian Gallant’s Liberal Government followed up with implementing their provincial ‘Water Strategy’ to further undermine the Water Classification Regulation. Our government stopped the routine sampling of aquatic insects in our rivers. Unfortunately, this easy and very cost-effective testing is necessary in order to carry out the baseline water quality and water classification of our rivers. In Ontario, aquatic insect testing is a cornerstone of water quality monitoring by local government and watershed groups. This watershed-based source water protection was legislated after the tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000. The Walkerton outbreak of waterborne gastroenteritis resulted from the contamination of the town’s water supply with E. coli and other bacteria that killed six people and made more than 2,000 people ill.
Our New Brunswick politicians need to work together and monitor and enforce the following existing legislation: 1) the Clean Water Act, including true and accurate wetlands maps; 2) water classification regulation (under the Clean Water Act) which is critical for the protection of our drinking water and communities in New Brunswick; 3) environmental impact assessment regulation (under the Clean Environment Act); and 4) implement watershed-based, source-water protection to protect our drinking water similar to Ontario’s program legislated after the Walkerton tragedy.
Homeowners and business owners are all affected by wetland and waterway protection, both upstream and within their village or city limits. With climate change, we need all of these natural catchment areas to withstand future catastrophic rain events of 20, 25 or 30 cm of rain in a 24-hour period. Back in December 2010, less than an hourʼs drive away from Fredericton, a cloudburst hung over Magaguadavic Lake and dropped more than 15cm (6 inches) of rain. The flood waters flowed into Magaguadavic River, and the results in Charlotte County were catastrophic.
Without intact wetlands and watersheds, where will the rain water go? This water includes during severe rain events, our spring freshet, and in recent years during fall and early-winter storms. The City of Fredericton, for example, has a downtown plat at the bottom of a steep hill sandwiched by the flood plain of the Saint John River and the huge forested wetlands of the UNB Woodlot. Just like an egg cracked over a person’s head, rain captured by the UNB Woodlot supplies the headwaters and tributaries of Corbett Brook, Phyllis Creek, Garden Creek, and Baker Brook watersheds, and smaller watercourses that flow through Fredericton and towards New Maryland. Man-made solutions, such as stormwater pipes and retention ponds, will only collect the water faster, stormwater outflow will be blocked by rising Wolastoq (Saint John River) waters, and retention ponds are designed to fail.
(see also The Value of Urban Wetlands – Priceless by Mark D’Arcy)
This week, the public is welcome to go to the Provincial Legislature building in Fredericton and watch the Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship hearings in the audience, or listen to the audio broadcast on the Legislature New Brunswick website. The Committee will meet in the Legislative Council Chamber at the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1pm to 6pm; and Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Thursday, Feb. 6, 9am to noon and 1pm to 6pm.
Mark D’Arcy is a resident of downtown Fredericton. Mark has over 20 years experience with grassroots community organization including Friends of the UNB Woodlot, shale gas, NB Energy East campaigner for the Council of Canadians, and the coming job creation boon in the new economy.