Aug 5 2014, Burlington in southern Ontario near Toronto, saw 2 months worth of rain fall in a matter of hours causing widespread flooding of houses, roads and infrastructure. (CBC)

Response to a climate change story

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(Both this article and the original one (HERE) prompting this response have been the subject of complaints to the CBC Ombudsman who has ruled in favour of the complainant. Certain elements deemed inaccurate or irrelevant have been removed or modified including a rainfall graphic deemed not relevant to the story. Changes to the original story have been made on Jan 29, 2019 to comply with the ombudsman’s decision available HERE)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that human activity is going to result in global temperature increases of an average 1.5 degree Celsius by 2030, that will in turn cause extreme drought, flooding, wildfires and food shortages for millions of people around the world.

Here in Canada, the Insurance Bureau of Canada in a commissioned report said its payouts from  natural disasters have doubled every five years since 1980, and the majority of those claims are from flooding due in large part to climate change.

One of the recommendations of the University of Waterloo Intact Centre report noted that preserving wetlands could mitigate flooding damage near urban centres by 29-38 per cent.

Robert Muir (P.Eng.) is an engineer working for a municipality in the area of flood risk planning and mitigation.

He maintains that rainfall levels and incidents of extreme rain events are not increasing beyond norms, and that maintaining wetlands may not always be the best solution to prevent floods.

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M Muir says that flooding in the area he knows around southern Ontario shows that flooding is most likely due to urban expansion and not from increased rainfall.

Robert Muir (P Eng) municipal flood risk planning engineer (supplied)

Indeed Senior Research Scientist at Environment Canada Xuebin Zhang has said that as the Earth warms it will increase extreme events, “As hot temperature extremes and extreme precipitation have increased globally, it is reasonable to expect the 100-year extreme hot temperature or 100-year extreme precipitation events to have become more frequent”.    However, he says Environment Canada records indicate that do date  there is no statistical evidence that annual rainfall amount has increased nor that of extreme rainfall events , “For Canada as a whole, observational evidence of changes in extreme precipitation is lacking” he states.

Mr Muir says an engineering study indicates current infrastructure in pipes and diversion canals shows they are capable of handling 95  per cent of excess water problems.

He also says that preserving wetlands as proposed in the Intact study, may not be the most cost effective or viable solutions toward preventing urban flooding.

However in her November 2018 environmental protection report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario highlighted the importance of wetlands. “Wetlands and woodlands are critically important for southern Ontario as habitat, and as buffers against pollution and flooding.

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11 comments on “Response to a climate change story
  1. Avatar Janet Thompson says:

    Who is this engineer person of Markham that denies climate change and what is wrong with the ombudsman to agree with him? HOw can the CBC say climate change is not happening in this article and yet run dozens of others on climate change?

    I think the CBC is going downhill

  2. Avatar Rocko Viking1 says:

    Just look at this fellow’s Twitter feed:
    May 25: Friends of Science, a well-known climate denial group: “A group of earth, atmospheric, solar scientists and engineers who conclude that the sun is the main driver of climate change.Not you.Not CO2”
    Apr 20: Todd With Trump’s mocking kid imitating pro-Green Deal AOC
    Etc.

    It appears he’s trying to prove all extreme weather events have no or little connection to climate change. An embedded climate denier/delayer in the City of Markham, Ontario, a stormwater engineer. No wonder he’s against Dr. Blair Feltmate & U of Waterloo, with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, trying to warn residents about the effects of climate change.

    Big Oil and their Conservative buddies have connections all over the place!

  3. Avatar J Drapeau says:

    What craziness is this? We’re not getting more rain or changed climate conditions? With record- repeat- record floods and storms? And the French side of CBC denies this? What has the French CBC to do with English stories and who is this smalltown engineer anhyhway? So many things seem wrong here

  4. Avatar ursula wagner says:

    What kind of a crazy decision is this?

    Everyone can see weather is changing, more violent storms, more flooding and of course it’s due to climate change.

  5. Avatar Robert Muir says:

    Thank you so much for the corrections. It is important that we accurately define weather risks so that we can identify the effective mitigation measures, designed appropriately based on real data, not exaggerated anecdotes.

    Unfortunately, Radio Canada is already repeating the same statements deemed to be in violation of journalistic standards, saying weather is more extreme and that wetlands are critical to addressing flooding: https://www.rcinet.ca/en/2019/01/30/canada-swamps-water-services-protection/

    Is there a systemic knowledge gap in Radio Canada reporting on extreme weather? How can all journalists effectively learn from the CBC Ombudsman’s extensive efforts here? It seems that even after journalistic standards are violated, what is learned does not help improve subsequent reporting on the topic.

  6. Avatar Robert Muir says:

    CBC misses the basics. What are ‘rainfall levels’? – in the interview I refer to rain storm intensity data but in the article CBC adds infographics on annual precipitation. Annual precipitation is a driver for mushrooms growing on my lawn, but is irrelevant in any discussion on storms (short duration intensities are the driver for urban flooding). The photo caption is right to focus on short duration storms, but the CBC’s ‘data’ is not related to that at all.

    Please correct the article to note that the storm intensity trends I described in the Environment Canada Engineering Climate Datasets are national and not “small localised areas” as suggested in the article. Environment Canada published in 2014 in Atmosphere-Ocean: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07055900.2014.969677

    “Short-duration (5 minutes to 24 hours) rainfall extremes are important for a number of purposes, including engineering infrastructure design, because they represent the different meteorological scales of extreme rainfall events. Both single location and regional analyses of the changes in short-duration extreme rainfall amounts across Canada, as observed by tipping bucket rain gauges from 1965 to 2005, are presented. The single station analysis shows a general lack of a detectable trend signal…”

    A GENERAL LACK OF A DETECTABLE TREND SIGNAL … ACROSS CANADA … ENGINEERING CLIMATE DATASETS (version 2.3) – engineers keep these statistics in their top desk drawers and use it to design infrastructure in Canada. Yes we make allowance for future climate and other design uncertainties too (some far greater than climate change effects in fact), but extreme rain storm trends are flat in Canada overall.

  7. Avatar Robert Muir says:

    Th Ontario Society of Professional Engineers has commented that wetlands are not a solution to urban flooding, just as I have stated in the interview:

    https://blog.ospe.on.ca/advocacy/ospe-letter-green-infrastructure/

    “Our infrastructure task force notes that green infrastructure is worthwhile for watershed protection, reducing erosion and improving water quality stresses, while the main issues in Ontario’s cities are related to infrastructure capacity gaps where opportunities for wetland retrofits are limited.”

    The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation information is not peer reviewed nor should it be considered as professional advice – for example their 2017 wetlands report:
    https://www.intactcentreclimateadaptation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/When-the-Big-Storms-Hit.pdf

    “You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. Nothing in this report constitutes legal advice. No representation or warranty (expressed or implied) is given as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and Intact Centre employees and affiliates do not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences to you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this report or for any decision based on it.”

    CBC appears to overlook the facts on this topic, and should rely on the advice of professionals who are licensed to practice in the field of flood management and infrastructure adaptation, like professional engineers.

  8. Avatar Pav PENNA says:

    “It is entirely possible that small localised areas may experience different situations from the global trend which points to human activity causing substantial climatic changes in weather patterns and increasing damage to infrastructure.”

    This is incorrect.

    For a comprehensive clearly annotated study of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has to say see is Dr. Roger Pielke Jr’s U.S. house testimony. It is a useful and readable summary of the scientific consensus on extreme weather events. He provides easy to follow citations to the original source material from IPCC, NOAA, etc. Highly recommended reading.

    https://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2013.38.pdf

    His summary conclusions are:

    • There exists exceedingly little scientific support for claims found in the media and political debate that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and drought have increased in frequency or intensity on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.
    • Similarly, on climate timescales it is incorrect to link the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.
    • These conclusions are supported by a broad scientific consensus, including that recently reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth assessment report (2013) as well as in its recent special report on extreme events (2012).

  9. Avatar ROBERT MUIR says:

    The caption on the Burlington flood in August 2014 suggests that getting a couple months’ worth of rain in a few hours is rare. Is it? Here is some analysis to show that because summer months are very dry in southern Ontario that observing a couple months of rain is not rare & can be within the range of design volumes that engineers use to design municipal infrastructure:
    https://www.cityfloodmap.com/2016/01/is-one-month-of-rain-falling-in-one-day.html

    The picture caption essentially creates an ‘anchoring bias’ by suggesting the Burlington rain total was very large by comparing it to an arbitrary dry-month statistic that is in fact irrelevant to infrastructure design. This heuristic bias is widespread in non-technical reporting on flooding events – a review of other heuristic biases is explored in my paper in the Journal of Water Management Modeling:
    https://www.chijournal.org/C449

    The paper is called “Evidence Based Policy Gaps in Water Resources: Thinking Fast and Slow on Floods and Flow” – it looks at flood and extreme rain reporting through the lens of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. There is a lot of ‘thinking fast’ and talking fast on this topic, including on the applicability of wetlands for flood control. Thinking slow and methodically shows that wetlands are not a viable option for urban flood mitigation. Suggesting otherwise shows a ‘substitution bias’, where wetlands are mistakenly assumed to apply in many cities in many places when in fact, looking at data, they are not viable in most locations. That is what the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers has said as well.

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Is that why the University of Waterloo environment faculty looks to wetlands to solve flooding? (City of Waterloo is not)

  10. Avatar Robert Muir says:

    On wetlands and flood mitigation and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario November 2018 climate protection report highlighting the importance of wetlands saying “Wetlands and woodlands are critically important for southern Ontario as habitat, and as buffers against pollution and flooding, it is important to read the background report cited – it is for an ABSOLUTELY ATYPICAL watershed (Laurel Creek in Waterloo, with extensive wetlands upstream and a river special policy area downstream) – an quantitative review of this fact is on my blog here:
    https://www.cityfloodmap.com/2018/10/wetlands-and-natural-infrastructure-for.html

    So the cited ECO 40% loss reduction is for a Hurricane Hazel scenario in one special location in Ontario only. It is a very rare case – not a practical best practice at all.

    The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers has commented on this topic in an open letter the the Financial Post recently as well here:
    https://blog.ospe.on.ca/advocacy/ospe-letter-green-infrastructure/#comment-19196

    The Society writes: “Our infrastructure task force notes that green infrastructure is worthwhile for watershed protection, reducing erosion and improving water quality stresses, while the main issues in Ontario’s cities are related to infrastructure capacity gaps where opportunities for wetland retrofits are limited.”

    There are thousands of sewer catchments with flooding challenges in Canada and just a handful that can rely on wetlands as a solution for store more water. Any good biologist know that storing more water will adversely affect the hydro-periods and wetting and drying and adversely impact sensitive habitat and species – wetlands are important natural heritage features, but they cannot in most cases be used to prevent urban flooding.

  11. Avatar Robert Muir says:

    On wetlands and flood mitigation and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario November 2018 climate protection report, highlighting the importance of wetlands. “Wetlands and woodlands are critically important for southern Ontario as habitat, and as buffers against pollution and flooding, it is important to read the background report cited – it is for an absolutely atypical watershed (Laurel Creek in Waterloo, with extensive wetlands upstream and a river special policy area downstream) – an quantitative review the is is on my blog:
    https://www.cityfloodmap.com/2018/10/wetlands-and-natural-infrastructure-for.html

    So the 40% loss reduction is for a Hurricane Hazel scenario in one special location in Ontario.