Rivers have surged over their banks this spring, flooding hundreds of homes, businesses and cottages. The Ottawa, Muskoka, French and Mattagami rivers (and many others) have flooded – and the risk now extends to lakes as well.
“Forecast high winds […] will pose additional flood hazards along the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario due to high water, wind driven storm surge and damages due to erosive wave action,” read a late May warning from the province’s flood forecasting system.
While provincial funding cuts for flood work have been imposed on Ontario Conservation Authorities, fourteen of them have issued flood warnings.
In the 1920s and 1930s, flooding was commonplace in Ontario.
Edmund Zavitz, Chief Forester of Ontario a century ago, traced the problem to deforestation. Settlers had cleared most of southern and eastern Ontario, leaving a bare-bones forest cover of about nine per cent.
The Thames and Ganaraska watersheds were down to about four per cent forest cover.
The indiscriminate clearing had stripped away some of the key features that absorb rainfall surges, such as swamps and wetlands along creeks. Deserts spread. Sand dunes engulfed orchards and roads. There was nothing to soak up the rain and flash floods multiplied.
Zavitz offered a simple solution; plant trees, he said.
Tree roots hold back riverbanks and prevent erosion. Trees act as sponges, soaking up rainwater; the trees release water into the atmosphere through what’s called transpiration. This is a benefit of sufficient forest cover.
Forests Ontario, the tree-planting and forest education charity, has planted large quantities of trees across the province in the past 12 years. In the Prince Edward County region, over 725 landowners have benefited from the 50 Million Tree Program. Of the over 27 million trees planted province-wide since 2008, 1,464,612 have been in the County.
Government support through the 50 Million Tree Program has kept down the price of trees, encouraging private landowners to turn fields into forests. These afforestation programs benefit us all, because they reduce the risk of floods and erosion.
In its April budget, the government of Premier Doug Ford cut the funding for Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program. The Ford government may think enough trees have been planted, but an ever-growing number of Ontarians disagree.
-Rob Keen, RPF
CEO, Forests Ontario