The Province of B.C. set aside a $1.5 billion economic stimulus fund in response to what is now the largest unemployment crisis on record. The government is currently seeking input on how best to allocate the fund.
Amid this pandemic, putting people back to work quickly and safely will require innovation. There are multiple reasons why now is the best time to invest in our natural assets, such as wetlands. Wetlands filter and store water, mitigate the impact of floods, serve as fireguards, store carbon, and are hotspots for our fish and wildlife. Unfortunately, we have lost between 60-95 percent of our wetlands in developed parts of B.C.
Our lifestyles, economy, and health are linked intrinsically to the health of our waters. Many watersheds within our province are degraded by past and present activities. In 2018, the Insurance Bureau of Canada released a study calling for urgent action to restore our natural floodplains and wetlands after recognizing that water damage was one of the greatest threats to their industry and the cause for increases in claims in the last few decades. We have an opportunity amidst this crisis to restore and steward watersheds.
Communities across B.C. already recognize the value of our natural waterways and the multiple services they provide, such as drinking water and flood mitigation, at much lower costs than engineered solutions. The Town of Gibsons has integrated natural aquifers into their operational balance sheet. Gibsons has developed a strategy to finance and manage its natural assets so that the services, such as the provision of clean drinking water, can continue to thrive.
The City of Nanaimo recently conducted an economic study of Buttertubs Marsh, determining it would cost $4.7 to $8.3 million to replace the flood control services this suburban marsh provides to downstream infrastructure. The City of Grand Forks, which suffered severe flood damages in recent years, is now taking bold steps to actively acquire private lands within portions of the Kettle River floodplain and restore those areas to natural floodplain habitat.
Working with communities across B.C. through the delivery of our Wetlands Education Program, I have had the unique opportunity to meet people who understand the value of wetlands and other natural assets and are championing initiatives to protect and restore them. For instance, local Fish and Game clubs are actively pursuing projects to improve fish passage and improved waterways that support fish habitat. Environmental conservation groups, such as Friends of Gardom Lake, are restoring wetlands to help clean degraded waters before entering downstream receiving waters. This type of conservation work also aligns well with many Indigenous communities who have started their land guardian initiatives. The Lower Kootenay Band, for instance, is currently reconnecting disconnected floodplain habitat along the Lower Goat and Kootenay Rivers to sustain fish and wildlife populations better.
A recent survey by Watersheds BC identified well over 100 shovel-ready projects in B.C., which could get people back to work. With minimal retraining, unemployed and underemployed individuals could work outdoors, at a safe distance, to help plant native species along the edge of streams and wetlands to restore countless waterways within our communities. Their efforts would improve water quality for people and provide better habitat for fish and wildlife. Outdoor restoration work also reconnects people with nature, improves mental and physical health, and brings communities together to be better stewards of our watersheds.
Every dollar spent on wetland restoration provides $22 in economic, ecological and social benefits. With the threats our drinking water, environment and fish and wildlife resources are facing, now is the time to invest in the future.
By Neil Fletcher, MRM Manager, Conservation Stewardship, B.C. Wildlife Federation