Harnessing the forces of nature with green infrastructure

Buffalo Pound. Photo by Ruvim Kerimov - Unsplash

Water—it’s something so many of us take for granted. We expect that when we turn on the faucet, there will be clean, safe water for drinking and washing and that our waterways are clean. However, water and its management is something we all need to think about.

Today, many communities are not only concerned about their water supply but also managing water usage and treatment—with an eye on environmental sustainability. The answer is simple. It’s time to embrace the power of the original green infrastructure: nature itself.

Time to get wet
Wetlands are a vital ecosystem in Canada, home to hundreds of species and natural spaces to enjoy. They’re also the OG water filtration system, removing pollutants and sediments from water. This improves water quality and reduces draining blockages. They also offer a powerful way to protect our homes, farms, towns and cities from flooding. Wetlands are “natural sponges” that trap and then slowly release water and precipitation. Wetlands’ natural water storage and slowing lowers the impact of flooding while also reducing erosion. All of this is particularly helpful when wetlands are in and around communities. Pretty impressive for something that occurs naturally, isn’t it?

Taking charge
Glenn Kolbun works for Native Plant Solutions, a consulting branch of Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC). They help jurisdictions manage water using wetlands restoration and management. For example, they are working on wetland lagoon systems that meet regulatory requirements without the price tag of more traditional infrastructure. “Industries have to do something with their waste water, and often turn to overly engineered buildings that have high maintenance and high costs,” says Kolbun. “We have developed lagoon systems that treat effluent passively without chemicals or without treatment of plants using natural wetland systems.”

The proof
Next door in Manitoba, Native Plant Solutions and DUC developed a first-of-its-kind lagoon system at Niverville. The award-winning project decommissioned an existing lagoon system and replaced it with something environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost-effective. They used in situ treatment of bio-solids using phyto- and bio-remediation, designing and commissioning a new wetland solution for the community—something that had never been done before in Canada. The results were incredible, with the bioremediation method working at less than half the costs for the traditional methods of decommissioning sewage lagoons. 

“On the industry side, that speaks volume to what you can do with this type of green infrastructure,” says Kolbun. “This lagoon treatment system, which is cutting edge in Canada, is also now a community amenity.”

Using green infrastructure like wetlands is still relatively new in Canada, but it’s worth exploring. Harnessing the power of nature is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for the community and the bottom line.