If you find this blog informative, please share it, thank you.
With peak water levels decreasing and communities united, the worst has passed for New Brunswick and now the cleanups begin. Now the media cyclone will proceed to the next natural disaster cycle. The worst brought out our best and accomplished the many challenges by many people in 2018's record water levels.
As big media will focus on political spin, property damage, infrastructure and government responses, the Saint John River and its many communities are still experiencing a disaster: water pollution. As waters rise and rush, buoyant items and leaky containers become part of the mix. Emptying into the Bay of Fundy, much of this pollution will eventually be part of the collective toxic fingerprint left by this disaster.
Thankfully, no lives were lost during the floods, first responders and each community did excellent work. People bond during these times, they also give their best, each act of kindness and support is priceless. Memories of #BeccaToldMeTo resonated with me on my last trip in to Riverview. Volunteers are joining forces to help salvage the remains and clean up hazards that can do further damage.
The primary hazard of flooding is damage by peak water level and wave action. This damage can compromise the integrity of infrastructure. Currently, the Canadian Military Engineers are inspecting assets and building an action plan. The secondary hazard of flooding is the pollution generated by these mechanical forces.
The resulting pollution will impact the river ecosystem, local communities and eventually the Bay of Fundy. This pollution is complex, it has many elements: plastic items, fossil fuels, agricultural products, paint cans and that 50 years of junk, chemicals and mystery stuff in Larry's ex-boathouse. When water levels rise all items become a potential pollution risk, both residential and industrial.
People are organizing cleanups to manage these needs. Lost your kayak? Call Larry. We call them cleanups, and these are critical to avoid large items turning into millions of tiny fragments of microplastic being eaten by fish, filter feeders, birds, turtles and the infinite tiny critters.
Many toxic risks may persist in some areas, there are warnings not to eat fiddleheads along flooded river banks. The river is polluted and will begin the long process of flushing, but some fingerprints spread through the complexity of nature, entering the biology of our ecosystem, its inhabitants and migratory visitors.
Government is now charged to evaluate performance and innovate its flood strategy. New Brunswick will learn and apply new tools to do it better next time, that is part of continuous improvement. Will the resultant be an achievement or failure? Will Canada, New Brunswick and local government create policy recommendations to address these other toxic risks? Gasoline, paint, chemicals, fertilizer, fuel tanks, road salt, and Larry's mystery jar from Larry's ex-boathouse should be considered. The run-off from this disaster will be passing through fish, mussel and seaweed farms. Have scientists studied these risks to the local population, economy and food security?
Will the government provide public guidance and best practices to lower pollution risks in future floods? Can Catherine McKenna develop a national strategy to mitigate future climate, sea level or Spring run-off events with respect to flood-pollution risk?
As the probability of these disasters increases, it would be best to study and develop a strategy moving forward. As bad as damages were in New Brunswick, this could have been much worse if this occurred in conjunction with a Bay of Fundy supertide, random storm surge, additional heavy precipitation, or more powerful wind storms. Each of these factors could combine to increase damage and increase river level, even the Bay of Fundy sea levels at Saint John. The complexity of water level at Saint John reveals large risks.
The amount of pollution generated by New Brunswick flooding can only be estimated and toxic impacts unknown. As this pollution finds its way into our ecosystems and the Bay of Fundy, many critters are put at risk from different toxic pollutants and also plastic debris, which many animals are directly and indirectly consuming.
Given that one drop of fossil fuels can taint one million drops of drinking water, we need to consider all the potential pollutants and risks that flooding produces and work on minimizing these risks. How many microplastic particles can be generated by one plastic lawn chair? Given the natural importance of New Brunswick and the many passionate farmers, hunters and anglers, protecting our environment with informed policy will help support a clean and healthy place for all.