Last week, the Council of the Great Lakes Region released a landmark report by the Mowat Centre on the economic impact of sustained low water levels.
The results are alarming.
By 2050, select sectors across the region could lose nearly $19 billion in costs associated with adapting to low water levels.
This is an urgent problem governments across the Great Lakes region must address.
That is why my organization, Georgian Bay Forever, called on the new Ontario government to lead the way by bringing an economic focus to this problem.
We need all levels of government to heed this report, and research the best approaches we can take to address the issue head on.
We think there is a particular interest in Ontario towards tackling problems such as these, given that Premier Wynne has appointed Glen Murray as the new Minister of the Environment and of Climate Change, to bring a focus to this urgent issue.
The ecological problem is clear: we are facing the longest recorded period of low water levels since 1918 when recordkeeping began.
While there may be seasonal upticks here and there in water levels, the year-over-year trend clearly shows that we face a sustained period of declined water levels.
The Mowat Centre's study concludes that there could be significant economic fallout from these low water levels: $9.6 billion by 2030 and at least $18.8 billion by 2050.
The study did not consider indirect impacts and only researched select sectors where data was available, so costs could be even higher.
I want to stress this point: these findings represent a conservative estimate of only select sectors; actual costs could be much higher.
That said, costs to impacted sectors by 2050 include:
- Recreational boating and fishing:12.86 billion;
- Commercial shipping and harbours:1.92 billion;
- Hydroelectric generation:2.93 billion;
- Residential waterfront property values in Ontario municipalities:976; and
- Rural groundwater users:35M in Ontario alone.
Georgian Bay Forever maintains that we need climate-resilient structures strategically placed to control the water levels throughout the basin.
Such structures will mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
In response to these troubling findings, Premier Wynne and her reelected government can act to prioritize research into engineering measures to mitigate declining water levels, which will only get worse with climate change.
To further address this issue, the Premier can start by convening a meeting with impacted stakeholders, businesses and municipal leaders, led by the Ministries of Economic Development, of the Environment and Climate Change, and of Natural Resources.
We need to bring an economic focus to this ecological problem because it poses potentially devastating problems to our economy across Ontario.
The Premier herself has acknowledged that we need an integrative approach to address this issue, one that brings together environmental and economic perspectives.
Bringing an inter-ministerial approach to this issue is an important starting point, as is cooperative engagement from the federal government so we can coordinate responses across international lines with the US government.
This report by the Mowat Centre shows that doing nothing is costly.
This is a complex issue.
There is no up-to-date engineering study of real solutions; that is why we hope the Ontario government will join with its federal counterparts to work with our American neighbours to research which approach is best, and move forward on implementing such a study's findings.
We need government leadership to arrive at a clear course of action to mitigate low water levels and avoid the worst of the economic impacts.
Climate change is a serious menace.
This is a serious ecological issue already having impacts throughout the Great Lakes and across the water basin in Ontario.
The Mowat Centre's report shows this is also a serious economic issue, one that requires urgent government action.
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