WEB EXCLUSIVE: Engineering safer, greener communities

The fact that climate change is the new reality and is a global phenomenon that affects us locally with severe weather, flooding and drought is a topic Credit Valley Conservation’s Christine Zimmer explored in her keynote address at the November 3rd Professional Engineers of Ontario certification ceremony. Zimmer, who is exploring innovative engineered solutions that allow our urban areas to adapt, encouraged the next generation of engineers to think outside-the-box to engineer greener, safer communities in light of climate change.

Storms that statistically occur once every 100 years now happen more frequently. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) experienced four such storms in the last 10 years. The July 8, 2013 storm that was felt in south Mississauga, among other communities in the GTA, was the most costly in Ontario, with an estimated $900 million in insurance claims. Burlington experienced over 200 mm of rain in one day earlier this year and Newmarket had two 100-year storms in one week. One or more Ontario municipalities have declared a state of emergency almost every year since 1995.

Zimmer leads Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) in engineering green infrastructure technologies and practices, also termed low impact development (LID). Permeable pavement, rain gardens and other innovative technologies being piloted by CVC treat rainwater where it falls, reducing flooding and filtering water naturally before it enters storm sewers, conventional stormwater ponds and our waterways. This reduces the stress on the GTA’s aging infrastructure.

“Engineers have an important role to play in protecting our communities from the effects of climate change,” said Zimmer. “The way our communities are developed can heighten or lower the risk of flooding, property damage and injury. Engineers save lives and have a duty to safeguard public welfare. Engineers need to think outside-the-box to develop the climate change solutions of the future.”

One of CVC’s LID sites, installed in Mississauga’s Lakeview community, involves a series of rain gardens and permeable pavement on a residential right-of-way instead of a traditional curb and gutter solution. The features are a beautiful addition to the neighbourhood and the City of Mississauga saved close to 25 per cent compared to a traditional stormwater management approach.

In light of July 8, 2013 storm, many businesses see the need to adopt on-site stormwater management features to protect their investments, in addition to relying on the municipal stormwater management infrastructure.  This is a lot like hiring a private security firm while also relying on municipal police. It makes sense financially and the cumulative effect of many LID sites can lower the burden on our municipal stormwater management system.  IMAX partnered with CVC to incorporate a permeable parking lot and other innovative stormwater controls at their headquarters in Mississauga. The stormwater controls can treat almost half of the rain seen during the July 8, 2013 storm. These green technologies will protect IMAX from the next big storm. The permeable parking lot will last twice as long as a conventional asphalt parking lot.

“There is the perception that trying something new is too risky but our monitoring results show that business as usual is not sustainable and actually results in more risk,” said Zimmer, noting that some of the early LID approaches piloted by CVC did not perform as expected. “We learned from the results, focused our efforts and refined our approach. Newly licenced engineers need to find new solutions to existing problems. Innovation drives success and our duty of care as engineers demands nothing less.”

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