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WWF-Canada and insurer work toward building flood-resilient communities

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 10/11/2019 12:53:00 PM

World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) and the RSA Canada group of companies have joined forces to assess vulnerabilities and develop adaptation plans in the Saint John River watershed. RSA Canada, a national insurance company, is providing the funding and expertise in flood mapping and disaster response. WWF-Canada is doing the work on the ground. It’s an approach that they hope can be replicated across Canada.

A survey by Maru/Blue conducted on behalf of WWF-Canada and RSA Canada found that a strong majority of Canadians (74%) agree that flooding has increased in Canada and that climate change is the culprit. However, almost half (47%) don’t know how to protect their home from flooding. The survey also found widespread confusion about flooding risks.

WWF-Canada and RSA Canada are currently working in the Saint John River watershed, which is among the most stressed in the country, Simon Mitchell, a WWF-Canada senior specialist who is the organization’s lead on this initiative, told EcoLog News in a telephone interview. The area is confronting many threats, the top three being habitat loss, fragmentation and climate change.

One of the challenges to addressing these threats is political fragmentation. There are a couple of large cities in the Saint John River basin, but it is made up mostly of smaller communities and First Nations. The entire Saint John River watershed, the largest between the Mississippi and St. Lawrence rivers, brings in Quebec, Maine, and the governments of Canada and the United States. “There are over 160 actors in this large watershed,” Mitchell says.

This web of jurisdictions makes it difficult for a single level of government to take the lead. That’s where non-governmental organizations like WWF-Canada can play an outsized role, Mitchell says.

“We’ve been acting as the catalyst, the convenor, the facilitator to bring the actors together,” he says. “We’ve done this in the past. This is just another example of that.”

The project has been underway for a few years, he says, conducting vulnerability assessments. “Now we’re working towards green infrastructure solutions and municipal natural assets as solutions for addressing flood-related impacts.” A number of projects have been completed, says Mitchell, citing streamside restoration projects, daylighting rivers in Saint John, and fish passage in the Nashwaak River watershed. “These are all tangible pieces that address some of the key threats,” he says.

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