Farmers in three provinces tapped to help reduce flood risk

A $250,000 investment will see 46 farmers establish and maintain 365 acres of wetland projects

New funding for an innovative conservation program could help reduce flood risk in Alberta’s largest city.

The charitable arm of Intact Financial Corporation — the country’s largest provider of property and casualty insurance — is giving nearly $250,000 in funding for ALUS Canada to develop natural infrastructure projects in four communities across Canada, including two in Alberta that are upstream from Calgary.

“Insurance companies know risk, and they’ve identified that farmers and ranchers have an important role to play in cleaning the water and providing flood control services for the rest of Albertans,” said Bryan Gilvesy, CEO of ALUS Canada.

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“I think it’s a win that we’re recognizing that much more can emerge from these farms as we look into the future.”

That’s becoming even more important as an increasing number of Canadian communities have to deal with extreme flooding events, Gilvesy added.

The funding from the Intact Foundation was announced in late April when communities in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick were dealing with major flooding.

In Ottawa, more than one million sandbags had been placed to protect homes and businesses from the swollen Ottawa River, and a major bridge between the capital and Gatineau, Que. closed. Near Montreal, 6,000 residents of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac had to flee their homes when flood waters breached a dike. And in New Brunswick, flooding affected dozens of communities, forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, and closed the Trans-Canada Highway.

And Alberta hasn’t been immune to flooding.

In 2013, southern Alberta — including the city of Calgary — faced a catastrophic flood that killed five and displaced more than 100,000 people. Until the Fort McMurray wildfire three years later, the 2013 Alberta flood was considered to be the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history as a result of the $1.7 billion in damage it caused.

Like Alberta, Manitoba — and in particular, the Assiniboine River Basin — has experienced significant flooding in the past decade. In 2011, the area experienced a one-in-300-year flood that stretched from late April to the end of June, costing over $1 billion in property damage. Just three years later, in 2014, the area saw heavy rainfall in June that sparked a second flood that was just as devastating.

This new funding will help 46 farmers and ranchers establish and maintain 365 acres of wetland projects in ALUS Canada’s Wheatland and Rocky View programs here in Alberta, Manitoba’s Little Saskatchewan River program, and the Ontario East program — areas that have been hit hardest by flooding in the past.

“With this funding, farmers can establish wetlands or wetland-related projects on portions of their land that they deem marginal to their operations,” said Gilvesy.

“They can create, manage, and maintain projects that would increase water retention, decrease overland flooding, reduce erosion, and filter water. These are the types of outcomes that ALUS projects can lead to.”

This work is already being done in Alberta, through the Modeste Natural Infrastructure Project. Last May, the provincial government gave ALUS Canada a $720,000 grant through the provincial Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program for flood mitigation in the Modeste sub-watershed of the North Saskatchewan River near Edmonton. That grant will help restore and maintain 650 acres of wetland and riparian areas in Wetaskiwin, Leduc, Parkland, and Brazeau counties.

“Between these two initiatives, we’re starting to gain a broader understanding of the value that farmers and ranchers can provide to produce cleaner water and flood resilience for the rest of Albertans,” said Gilvesy.

Rene Lalumiere walks down his flooded street after trying, unsuccessfully, to reach his home in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., on April 28.
photo: Reuters/Christinne Muschi/Chris Wattie

And as the risk of flooding continues to grow as Canada’s climate changes, the work that farmers and ranchers do on their land will become even more vital for flood prevention, he said.

“ALUS Canada has been at the forefront of developing that infrastructure as an important solution to adapt to climate change,” said Gilvesy.

“We’ve been unable to anticipate what a changing climate would mean for us from a flood perspective, but insurance companies have identified that part of the reason we’re having these flood issues is that we’ve not understood very clearly the value of the natural infrastructure.

“By investing in that, we’re seeing what can emerge from these farms and ranches, and our role is to help harness that value and deliver that value for the farming community.”

To learn more about ALUS Canada or to develop an ALUS project on your own operation, visit alus.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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