Halton Region, ON — At a time when Ontario’s Greenbelt is eyed for development, a new report demonstrates that natural assets in Grindstone Creek are extremely valuable in addressing local flood risk, but these costs will be thrust onto communities if protection of the watershed does not become a priority.
The Grindstone Creek Watershed Natural Asset Project is the first of its kind in Ontario, bringing partners from across jurisdictions to address their shared watershed. The Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI), with support from the Greenbelt Foundation, partnered with the Cities of Hamilton, Burlington, Conservation Halton and Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) to explore the value and condition of natural assets in Grindstone Creek and to incorporate them in local financial planning and asset management.
The report finds that the estimated value of stormwater management services alone is equivalent to over $2 billion in engineered infrastructure replacements, not including operational costs. The watershed also provides an annual service value of approximately $34 million in co-benefits, including recreation, erosion control, habitat biodiversity, atmospheric regulation, and climate mitigation.
“This project makes clear the vital importance of the infrastructure and non-infrastructure services provided by natural assets in the Grindstone Creek watershed — and a path to protect them as core assets for the long-term,” says Roy Brooke, Executive Director of the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative. “Although we can’t reduce nature to a simple dollar figure, this shows the enormous financial value of services communities are getting from nature. Protecting these assets avoids taxpayers getting stuck with a far higher bill to replace services that nature gives us already,” he added.
Flooding is Ontario’s most costly natural hazard, and with strains from ageing infrastructure and tight municipal budgets, the value of pre-existing, climate-resilient infrastructure will only increase.
“The Greenbelt Foundation is proud to support the Grindstone Creek Watershed project, which shows the tremendous potential of a community effort to deliver cost-effective municipal services that enhance our towns’ and cities’ ability to mitigate growing risks like flooding,” says Greenbelt Foundation CEO Ed McDonnell. “The report by MNAI affirms the substantial economic value of critical natural assets, the importance of integrating this knowledge into municipal planning, and is further proof that the Ontario Greenbelt is one of our greatest resources to address urbanization and climate change.”
Grindstone Creek represents a new way forward in addressing the impacts of climate change through cost-effective solutions. Partners in the project recognize they can do more together than they could on their own.
In the report, MNAI identified two immediate actions needed in the Grindstone Creek watershed: restore high-risk priority areas to avoid loss of natural assets; and commit to improving governance and collaborative strategies long-term.
“If we’re going to effectively tackle resource issues, like flooding and erosion, we need to use science and data to better understand how our watershed functions and reacts to different stresses, like climate change,” says Hassaan Basit, President of Conservation Halton. “With this understanding, Conservation Halton, municipalities, and other partners can work together to find cost-effective ways to respond to today’s changing environment. By recognizing that what happens upstream affects what happens downstream, we can help to prepare and protect for the future.”
Results and recommendations from the project have gone to the respective Councils and Board Members of Hamilton, Burlington, Conservation Halton and RBG for their consideration, with further discussion to take place early in the new year.