Ontario hosted the Climate Summit of the Americas this week, bringing political leaders from the Americas together to talk about climate change and cross-border collaboration.
While the focus of the summit was greenhouse gas emissions, climate change as a general topic is a big deal for the Great Lakes. We at Waterkeeper have talked a lot this summer about heavy rains in Toronto and pollution from the city’s aging sewage system. Because of shifting climate and weather patterns, we can expect to see more bypasses and sewage overflows in the future.
According to Climate Ready, Ontario’s climate change adaptation strategy, extreme weather events are becoming more common:
Rainstorms and floods have always been a fact of life in Ontario. So too have droughts and heat waves, ice storms and blizzards, tornadoes and windstorms. But weather is changing and has been for a generation now. Temperatures are higher, especially in winter; more rain is falling in heavy storms and summers have more frequent and longer dry periods.
For residents of Toronto and other older urban areas, extreme weather means extreme problems for waterways:
The environmental performance of some infrastructure, such as wastewater and stormwater infrastructure may become inadequate, which would have impacts on the water quality, water quantity and the ecosystem.
The connection between extreme weather events, infrastructure failures, and health and environmental concerns is well-known. Insurance companies are keeping a close eye on these issues and raising alarm bells that we need to do a better job upgrading our infrastructure to handle sewage and stormwater.
Ernst & Young named climate change the top risk to the insurance industry back in 2008, noting that flooding leads all property insurance claims. This is mostly due to sewage backups. Water damage, they say, now beats out fire or theft damages in Ontario.
If we don’t adapt, damages may reach $5-billion nationwide within the next 5 years, or as high as $43-billion per year by 2050. Those figures are contained in a fascinating report released by Simon Fraser University in June called Paying for Urban Infrastructure Adaptation in Canada.
Coming on the heels of major bypasses and combined sewage overflows in the heart of Toronto’s popular recreational water zones, the Climate Summit and Simon Fraser reports serve as sobering reminders that our infrastructure and water quality problems will not go away on their own.
Though the media reports don’t connect the Climate Summit to the lake next door, they are related. As goes our climate change and adaptation strategies, so goes Lake Ontario.