An attentive crowd of over one hundred including half of Perth's Town Council filled the Perth Legion Hall on April 15 to hear from local politicians and environmental authorities about climate change in our area, specifically on what can and needs to be done. The event was organized by the Perth Canadian Federation of University Women in collaboration with the Friends of the Tay Watershed Association and moderated by Lynn Preston from the Centre for Sustainable Watersheds.
The five panelists, left to right: Jackie Oblak, Bruce Reid, Paul Lehman, Lanark County Warden Bill Dobson and Mayor John Fenik.
Environmental Consultant Jackie Oblak emphasized that climate change is an indisputable reality, and that actions that are both remedial (to avoid adding more climate change contribu-tors) and adaptive (to manage what is already happening), will decrease our vulnerability and increase resilience, so both are absolutely essential. She also stressed that widespread collabora-tive efforts by all government agencies and conservation authorities, industries, business and local organizations and individuals are needed.
Citing the Lake Simcoe climate change plan as a possible model for this area, Jackie explained that "what is unique about this plan is the level of protection that has been mandated by the Lake Simcoe Protection Act passed in 2008 by the Ontario government. It identifies short and long term priorities, includes targets, (setting for example a goal of 90% storm-water retention for that area), indicators and policies with the objective of promoting natural systems resilience in the entire Lake Simcoe ecosystem."
She added, "Locally, we need to focus on protecting natural corridors and linkages as the cli-mate changes, supporting biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, practicing water conservation, protecting water quality and making wise land use choices. Such sustainable options can be considered 'no regret' actions as beginning steps in adaptation and will be good investments for our future."
Bruce Reid from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority confirmed that data collected locally since the 1940s shows evidence of climate change with gradually increasing amounts of precipitation, average temperature increases of 0.1 degree Celsius per decade, increasing amounts of run-off with earlier spring thaws, and decreasing maximum daily flows in our rivers. These realities have necessitated increased focus on better flood control, protection of our conservation areas, reforestation and "never enough" monitoring.
Mississippi Valley Conservation's Paul Lehman outlined similar challenges, emphasizing that "the science is clear, and local leadership and action are critically needed because climate change is an economic, social and environmental issue."
He said that while we can expect up to 10% more precipitation over the next century, due to increased heat and then evapotransportation, there will likely be 25% less water available to replenish lakes, streams and aquifers. And despite a lack of political direction and support from our federal government, both conservation authorities are working together to identify potential vulnerabilities to begin to address the challenges brought to us by climate change locally.
Lanark Warden Bill Dobson is an organic beef farmer who respects the importance of whole ecosystems protection. He mentioned concerns about climate-change-related damage to local maple syrup production and to local farming from increased flooding and droughts. "With this past summer's drought, farmers from out West donated many bales of hay but the actual transportation costs worked out to $350 per round bale." He also mentioned that with increased freeze-thaw events as already experienced, there will be more damage to asphalt roads and concrete bridges. Lanark County has an Energy Conservation Committee committed to sharing ideas and best practices, is doing energy audits and decreasing energy usage for a smaller energy footprint.
Perth Mayor John Fenik listed some of the ways the Town has started to make changes includ-ing waste recycling, tree planting and filtering of the alum effluent from the drinking water plant as it enters the Tay River. He also decried the lack of leadership from the federal govern-ment on coping with climate change.
Many meeting participants indicating their clear understanding of what needs to be done about climate change .
Comments from the audience included concern about the lack of storm-water treatment in Perth, the high number of local lakes and rivers that are choked with vegetation — "is it edible?" — the and the need for better monitoring of ground water levels and wells.
Transition Perth's Bonita Ford asked: "So how many of us now have a clear idea of what needs to be done about climate change?" Many attendees raised their hands and over fifty followed up by leaving their contact information so as to be kept in the loop about future initiatives on climate change and/or to help with the formation of a local climate change action network for an official plan of our own.
Peggy Land, CFUW Environment Committee Chair closed the event by noting that "it will take the efforts of all of us and more to come up with an official climate action plan anything like the Lake Simcoe watershed, an 82 page document.
She added, "Right now, all we have in our 2012 Lanark Sustainable Community Official Plan under climate change is one line that says 'opportunity for collaboration with local partners.' This plan is only reviewed every five years."
However, with such strong interest shown at the meeting in working together, the goal of an official climate change action plan for this area is one step closer.
Submitted by Perth CFUW and Friends of the Tay Watershed