ALUS gains ground at Queen's Park

Program seen as response to changing climate

Wetland projects such as this one at the property of Paul Mauthe in Delhi capture rain from summer storms and release it slowly and naturally into the environment. The capacity of wetlands to modulate the impact of storm events has piqued interest in the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program in urban areas across Canada. ALUS / Contributed photo

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Officials at Queen’s Park are taking a hard look at environmental measures that might mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

The Ford government rejects carbon taxes and has promised to fight Ottawa on this count.

However, the government has thrown its support behind a private-member’s bill that would obligate the provincial bureaucracy to promote Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) as a response to extreme weather events.

The bill, which has passed second reading, is sponsored by local MPP Toby Barrett. The bill has been referred to the legislature’s Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills for possible public hearings.

“I do ask all of us to imagine the possibilities,” Barrett said last week. “We’ve seen the results down here. Streams in Norfolk where ALUS has been implemented are running clear. I checked them this fall. No mud whatsoever. These programs pay back and then some, big time.”

Barrett’s bill has attracted an unusually high level of support.

Not only did all parties in the legislature endorse it, it has the formal support of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, the World Wildlife Fund, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Ontario Home Builders Association, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and Delta Waterfowl among others.

ALUS stands for “alternative land use services.” ALUS is based on the principle that owners of marginal land in rural areas should be paid to make improvements to their property that produce environmental benefits.

ALUS in Canada began nearly 20 years ago with waterfowl wetland restoration projects out west.

About 10 years ago, ALUS was set up as a pilot program in Norfolk County. ALUS has gone national with affiliates in most every province and major support from benefactors such as the W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

ALUS is generating interest because it provides solutions to problems arising from infrastructure failures in Canadian cities.

Since the 1700s, urbanization in Canada has involved the deforestation and draining of wetlands. Authorities today recognize this was a mistake that contributes to flash flooding in places where most everything is concrete or paved over.

With basement repairs running as high as $40,000 per household following a flood, ALUS is especially of interest to insurance companies.

Barrett says ALUS projects restore natural “sponges” on the landscape that forests and wetlands once provided.

With natural reservoirs in place, precipitation is captured and slowly released into rivers and streams instead of as a torrent into neighbourhoods ill-equipped to handle it.

Barrett’s Bill 28 was on the agenda of a Natural Infrastructure Forum in Winnipeg last week. Barrett was a guest speaker. Also attending was Bryan Gilvesy of Tillsonburg, an ALUS pioneer and the CEO of ALUS Canada.

“The built infrastructure we have today did not anticipate climate challenges,” Gilvesy said. “With the climate changing, we did not anticipate what was coming. That’s the conundrum we are in today.

“Wetlands and forests have greater carrying capacity because they have more organic matter, both living and dead. Organic matter acts as a sponge. I take the farmer’s perspective: If I have more organic matter in my soil, I’m going to hang onto more moisture when it rains.”

If Barrett’s private-members bill is read into law, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will be required to promote ALUS, provide information on potential ALUS projects, produce standardized educational materials, promote fundraising for ALUS projects, and promote research into potential ALUS techniques.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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