Climate change: It’s already here

Climate change.

It’s here, it’s now … and it’s in our backyard.

The topic is frequently in the News, but always seems to be affecting some far off place. It’s a mistaken notion.

One had only to hear a recent presentation by Maitland Valley Conservation Authority staff to get an inkling of what is yet to come. The issue is not just climate change itself, but local changes as well.

While flooding in the Harriston area was likely not unheard of prior to the early 1900s, it was not well-documented, according to MVCA records.

They are the people who should know.

They have stated Harriston has had 13 floods throughout its history, the earliest recorded in 1912. Though it was never directly stated that man-made changes are part of the problem, it was said that an area which used to act as a sponge for rainfall, is now largely deforested.

According to a report from the MVCA, “put simply, Harriston is built on top of the river, and most homes are located within the flood plain.”

Using the words of a former colleague, in that regard, Harriston is no exception.

The majority of communities in southwestern Ontario were founded upon rivers and streams, a source of waterpower for local mills and industries. The need to have communities hugging the waterline is no longer a necessity – and it is clear there is a cost.

Potential damage to homes and businesses in a regional flood in Harriston is estimated at $15-million, excluding damage to local infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the current scientific consensus is the Earth’s climate in the 21st century will not be the same as it has been in recent history.

Although a number of uncertainties about the rate and timing of change remain, the fact is the Earth is experiencing a warming trend. The average global temperature has increased by approximately 0.5°C over the past 100 years. In Canada, the average temperature has increased by 0.9°C since 1948.

Scientists now estimate Ontario will warm an average of 2 to 5°C within the next 75 to 100 years.

Tem­perature increases will be greater in the winter than in the summer and the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are likely to increase.

A climate change study commissioned by the MVCA has indicated the climate here is already changing. That study indicated there is more precipitation, it is happening over shorter periods of time and in more local storm systems.

Coupled with more days above freezing, the small Harriston watershed is more prone to flash flooding.

The reality is, unless something changes, increased flood risk may become the norm.

When all is said and done, it seems that Harriston may be the bellwether, warning of things to come elsewhere in the county – and the rest of the country.