Dams and Dykes More Important with Climate Change

Sometimes it seems like those of us who deal with climate change are shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling. We must run and tell the King!”

The reality is, the sky is falling. In the form of increased, localized rain storms. We had one just this past week. These storms are becoming more frequent as the ice caps melt and the planet warms. The water must go somewhere and part of somewhere is the atmosphere. Climate change is complicated. It can lead to more rain and more drought. We need to look beyond one cold winter and spring to the trends going back one hundred years.

In the 1900s, Niagara Falls froze and people would go out onto an ice hill below the falls. The falls froze partially this past winter for the first time in many years but that doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening. Our memories of the weather in past years are very fallible and it is fortunate that the staff at the GRCA keep accurate statistics on the river.

This spring, the Grand River dodged a bullet. The cold winter meant a snow pack two to three times higher than usual. Combined with a lot of rain and ice jams, the spring melt would have meant flooding much worse than the 1974 flood in Cambridge. Fortunately a slow melt of warm days and cool nights and warmish weather and cold spells (perfect maple syrup weather), meant everything went well. The reservoirs were full at one point but the experts at the GRCA made sure it was properly released.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the great flood of May 1974. Since that time, as outlined in the May 17th, Waterloo Region Record article, stopping flooding is a full time job at the GRCA. It should be pointed out that the Galt flood happened after the spring melt and was caused by a half month’s worth of rain falling on already sodden ground. Sounds a lot like this May. We can only hope to dodge another bullet.

Since that time, dykes and the river wall by the School of Architecture plus vigilant work at the Grand River dams, have prevented severe flooding in Waterloo Region. On December 28, 2008, it is estimated that without the reservoirs, the flow of the Grand River in Cambridge (Galt) would have reached the flow  at Galt during the 1974 flood.

This leads me to point out that, other than transit, the three main parties in this election are silent on Climate Change.

The GRCA recently got grants from the province to pay for half the cost of fixing the dykes in Cambridge. However, the program the money came from, the Water and Erosion Control Infrastructure Program, was recently cut back, though the province has said they will return the funds next year.

Conservation Ontario’s flood business case highlights needed investments in aging infrastructure, Conservation Authority flood operations, floodplain mapping and asset management strategies.

Conservation Ontario and the GRCA have been lobbying the opposition parties and the present government about the importance of conservation authorities for a number of years. Hopefully all parties will understand the importance of preserving dykes and dams in a time of climate change.

Useful Links

 GRCA website


May 1974 Flood

The Record article,

Youtube part one

Youtube part 2

One Day in May

Climate Change

Arctic ice is shrinking

new report shows that the Antarctic glaciers are calving.

into the atmosphere. As the temperature increases, more moisture is absorbed.

Climate change denied

Niagara Falls 2014

Niagara Falls 1900


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