Infiltrating Paradigms: Examining Current Stormwater Management Practices within the Township of Keswick and Barriers to Implementing Innovative Water Management Strategies
Harrow, S. Mitchell
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The increasing demand for drinking water, due to a growing population, is in competition with agriculture, industry, and economic uses. Changes in freshwater can be seen in the dropping water levels of the Great Lakes region yet is not evident in Lake Simcoe, due to the regulation of water levels after 1918. Therefore, to understand the changes in freshwater quantity, stormwater infiltration must be observed. Infiltration of water through plants and soil increases water health, storage, and baseflow to streams; subsequently creating future supplies, ensuring resilience in a changing environment. Water moves through society and nature within a watershed, creating a socio-ecohydrological landscape. Keswick, Ontario and its watershed, the Maskinonge River, have poor stormwater infiltration and low vegetative cover, which effects flooding in urban centres and the health of Lake Simcoe. This requires stormwater management (SWM); and a key factor affecting SWM is vegetative cover. Vegetation has many ecological functions (e.g. holding water, preventing erosion), as well as improving physical and mental health. A way to increase vegetative cover and infiltration is through low-impact development (LID), which creates stability between the built and natural environments. However, there are barriers to LID, and through conversations in specialized interviews I explored the question, what are the pros and cons to alternative stormwater management practices, as well as the barriers to implementing these solutions? According to my research, the pros to LID are improved water filtration, phosphorus reduction, aesthetics, and increased storage of stormwater. The only cons were difficulty infiltrating in places with poor drainage, and not wishing to infiltrate salts and oils into the ground where present. Today, SWM ponds are not working as needed, and on site water conveyance has long been suggested. Keswick has no examples of LID, despite education of its benefits. My research revealed status quo, cost and permitting as the barriers to implementation, however these are symptoms; the main barriers are entrenched paradigms. For example, status quo and cost are perceived as why 'others' are not changing; although everyone was willing to change once something happened (e.g. new guidelines, stormwater credit). Developers have seen cost benefits with LID; and Operations find the cost of the current system already unreasonable. As well, society's perception of natural as 'wild' has created opposition to naturalized solutions. These are perceptions based in fear, and not unwillingness. As for permitting, the dilemma is the strict use of guidelines. The Conservation Authority has an entrenched idea that regulations will be abused, and municipalities fear liability. LID is not one-size-fits-all, so revisions will always be necessary, resulting in challenges and delays enervating the process. Unfortunately, there is much time and money wasted in a back and forth battle of wills concluding with a SWM pond, which the municipality will need to remove later. My recommendation is for communication rather than revision. Allow for innovative designs, using guidelines as guides, and open a dialogue between all invested parties to inspire collaboration. The outcome will be a compromise, born out of a desire to move forward.