Monday, February 13, 2017
By Sara Jane O’Neill
This post originally appeared in the RAIN Community Solutions Umbrella Stormwater Bulletin.
Local governments across Canada are starting to look at rainwater through a new lens – as a resource that can be managed and harvested on site as opposed to a waste product that must be removed. It is becoming clear that combining green infrastructure with existing grey infrastructure systems is a cost-effective option that provides a range of environmental and social benefits. And that stormwater management is a critical municipal service that requires a new funding approach that is dedicated, transparent and fair.
To help local governments tackle the challenge of implementing green infrastructure policies and programs, Green Communities Canada and the Smart Prosperity Institute held workshops in a number of communities across Canada to discuss options and listen to the barriers being encountered by municipal staff, non-profit organizations, and private industry. Our travels took us to Red Deer, AB, Saskatoon, SK, Charlottetown, PEI, Halifax, NS, and Kelowna, BC.
Learn more about how stormwater user fees can promote managing rain where it falls in your community. New solutions for sustainable stormwater management in Canada: Webinar, March 2, 1 pm EST with Sara Jane O’Neill of Smart Prosperity Institute. Register now!
In these workshops staff from Green Communities Canada provided an overview of many of the programs and policies being implemented across Canada and the United States, all of which can be found in their comprehensive Soak it Up! Toolkit. Smart Prosperity Institute presented information on stormwater user fees and other economic incentives for green infrastructure, information that can be found in their latest report, New Solutions for Sustainable Stormwater Management in Canada.
While most workshop participants were eager to hear information on what is being done in other cities, the most interesting part of each workshop was the discussion on barriers and challenges. The most common question we encountered was “will it work here?” – will green infrastructure work in cold climates like Red Deer or Saskatoon, will it work in semi-arid climates like Kelowna? In many communities across Canada, green infrastructure, in theory, sounds like a great idea, but there is concern around how something built in a city like Vancouver will work in a city like Saskatoon.
The answer we proposed: pilot projects! The more cities that are willing to invest in small scale local projects, the more we can learn about what green infrastructure works best in different regions, what skills need to be gained, and most importantly, what doesn’t work.
Another common challenge was public buy-in and support. Particularly when a stormwater user fee is proposed, residents often are concerned about why an apparent new fee is required. Green infrastructure pilot projects and a comprehensive and meaningful public consultation process can help demonstrate to residents how stormwater is managed in their community, the costs associated with existing grey infrastructure in terms of pollution and urban flooding, and the social, environmental and economic benefits of user fees and green infrastructure.
Although we were only able to do a few workshops, it is clear that Canadian communities are eager to take up the challenge of creating a more cost-effective stormwater system that harnesses the benefits of working with nature to build more liveable communities. For example, Charlottetown recently reached their goal of no more CSOs as of October 2016, and Saskatoon implemented a stormwater user fee in 2012 and has a number of green infrastructure projects already in the works. With continued help and support we hope to see even more communities viewing stormwater through a new lens of opportunity.
Contact Clara Blakelock, Manager of Water Programs with Green Communities Canada if your municipality is interested in hosting a similar workshop.