Flooding: Chaos and probability

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

From Temiskaming to Montreal, people living alongside the Ottawa River and its tributaries and some lakefront properties are still experiencing serious flooding. Despite being told that waters peaked May 2, floodwaters will remain, possibly for a few weeks.

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

From Temiskaming to Montreal, people living alongside the Ottawa River and its tributaries and some lakefront properties are still experiencing serious flooding. Despite being told that waters peaked May 2, floodwaters will remain, possibly for a few weeks.
Polluted water, homes, and sandbags… Volunteers will continue to work alongside property owners in the cleanup phase, so the flood damage will continue as an ongoing environmental issue.
Is this our future, as residents living alongside the Ottawa River’s watershed? Like you, I’m wondering the same thing.
Blair Feltmate is the Chair of the federal Liberal government’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, as well as head of the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. On CBC he explained:
“The extreme precipitation events that are occurring now are going to continue and indeed are going to get worse because a certain proportion of that which is driving these events is climate change itself. So we’re getting more storms of greater magnitude, of greater intensity [and] higher volumes of water coming down over shorter periods of time.”
Predictions & probability
How could we get a second major flood after 2017’s, which was supposedly “the once-in-100-year flood”?
Writer Charles Hodgson explains probability.
“When we hear that a weather event is a once in a 100-year event, we shouldn’t think ‘ah, we had a flood last year, now we’re safe for 99 years’ any more than we would think ‘heads or tails, there’s a 50/50 chance, I got heads last time, so I’m certain to get tails this time.’ That 100-year weather event is an expression of probability. There’s a one percent chance of such weather in any given year.”
Chaos theory?
The Fractal Foundation explains chaos theory, a pertinent perspective to acknowledge in the context of Nature and flooding.
“Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on. These phenomena are often described by fractal mathematics, which captures the infinite complexity of nature. Many natural objects exhibit fractal properties, including landscapes, clouds, trees, organs, rivers etc., and many of the systems in which we live exhibit complex, chaotic behavior. Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world can give us new insight, power, and wisdom.”
Changing land use
Not only is Earth’s climate changing, our treatment and use of land continues to alter the landscape forever. Consider colonization. We cleared the land, dug mines, planted crops, drained wetlands – those natural buffers which retain water – and tiled fields to help grow crops and graze livestock.
When we clear land of forests and drain wetlands, we are altering Nature’s natural water retention systems. We thought this was beneficial; now not so much. Instead, with spring’s melt, there’s little to hold back water. It courses where it will, flowing into streams, rivers and lakes, always choosing the easiest path.
So we need to redo the mapping of flood plains, those areas adjacent to a body of water which are prone to flooding.
What next?
Feltmate suggests we rethink infrastructure. He suggests we build permanent infrastructures, listing “berms, diversion channels, holding ponds, cisterns, bioswales … to direct water to safe locations where it can be stored or discharged downstream.”
We humans resemble beavers. We are engineers who continue to alter our
environment.
How will we adapt to our changing climate, which involves adapting to mega-floods after bitter winters? We’ll see.