Government needs to wake up

To the Editor,

Like many of your readers, we are stunned by the unprecedented severe storms and the resulting mud slides and flooding that has occurred in BC. We listened to experts and BC residents talk about the wild fires, development and logging practises that have removed vast swaths of trees and other vegetation such that when the record torrential rains came there was little to slow down the sudden and catastrophic mud slides.
A recent report as part of our County’s Community Climate Action Plan stated that “the weather in Haliburton County is expected to get warmer, wetter and wilder.” We increasingly receive a month’s worth of rain over two days and three times over six years the Burnt and Gull Rivers have overflowed and Minden had to declare a state of emergency on all three occasions.
On the heels of the UN Climate Change Conference and in the wake of events in BC this is surely a wake-up call for our local governments to take climate change much more seriously and step up planning measures to prevent future man-made disasters.

A good first step would be to regulate site alternations and call for a moratorium on developments next to floodplains and wetlands. Why? The County does not have a site alteration bylaw nor, after five years does it have a shoreline preservation by-law. Furthermore there are no regulations to protect trees on properties under 10 acres. Deforestation can and does happen one lot at a time. The environment, people’s safety, our assets and our tax dollars are at stake.
Post BC it’s clear that the existing guidelines for determining the role and size of a floodplain no longer apply. Furthermore Haliburton County has just started to re-map flood plains along its lakes and rivers.

The largest development proposal coming before Dysart and [Haliburton] County is a condominium and commercial development proposed for the south-west Grass Lake Wetland. The proposed condominiums would house upwards of 150 people, a conservative estimate at that. If approved the development could see the complete removal of the remaining forest canopy 30-metres above the shoreline and replaced with 88 condo units, parking lots, driveways, extensive board walk, patios, and even grass which will have an immediate impact on Grass Lake and the Kashagawigamog chain of lakes. Commercial operations like a gas station, fuel depot or car rental agency could further cover 80 per cent of a lot that borders the high water mark. That’s a lot of hard surface that doesn’t absorb water and such surfaces create additional contaminated runoff that will flow into the wetland and lake. Wetlands are critical to filtering contaminated runoff from surrounding human habitation, cleaning and recharging the aquifers and discharging runoff from the spring thaw and torrential rain events but they have a limit. The ecological collapse of our wetlands and lakes could cost tax payers billions of dollars in future remediation costs.

The Grass Lake wetlands of which there are three, are already overburdened. Grass Lake is significant for its location in the Village of Haliburton, notably as the lowest catchment point for all the contaminated runoff from nearby commercial businesses, the roads and highways that run too close to its perimeter, the village landfill, the industrial park, and the discharge from the sanitary sewage plant.
The forested hillsides and shorelands that surround our villages and lakes also play a critical role in our safety, health and well-being. Forests filter and regulate the flow of water, namely their leaves capture and slow the fall of rain to the forest floor, which acts like an enormous sponge, absorbing up to 46 centimetres (15 inches) of precipitation before gradually releasing it to streams and recharging ground water. On average an untouched forest floor can absorb two-thirds more rain than a cover of suburban turf.
Many of our lakes are in distress and if a balance between the environment and development is not respected then complete ecological collapse could be on the horizon.

Carolyn Langdon on behalf of the Langdon family
Grass Lake, Haliburton