By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 13, 2016
Elizabeth May made her way to Haliburton County just as the rains started falling again.
One of Canada’s best known environmentalists, the leader of the Green Party spoke in front of a packed community centre in Minden about the climate crisis and our role in averting disaster just as our region was coming out of one of the worst droughts we’ve experienced.
May’s arrival symbolically punctuated the eight months of 2016, which had brought spring flooding and a stunningly dry summer.
For those who live or cottage on local lakes, it wasn’t as obvious this year that we were in the midst of a drought. According to the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow, lake levels stayed about average throughout the summer due to some advanced planning by the management of the Trent Severn Waterway.
This year, anticipating the drought, the Parks Canada staff who make decisions about the iconic navigation system decided to fill up the Kawartha Lakes and hold as much water as possible in the reservoir lakes of Haliburton. They reduced the water on the Otonabee River to minimum flows and managed to make it to the second week of August before the depth of the dry spell triggered a need to draw down water in the Highlands drastically.
And then came the rains. Before the deluge that started Aug. 13, Haliburton had received just 59 per cent of what was normal for a summer. And while precipitation eventually caught up to average here, our neighbours to the south never did get the rain with just 40 per cent of the average for Peterborough between May 1 and Aug. 31.
It’s been noted around the world, and Haliburton is no exception, that extreme weather is becoming more common.
Despite warnings from scientists for decades, humans have continued to burn fossil fuels, warming the planet. We are now beginning to see the effects of that behaviour.
More storms. More tornados. More droughts.
At the CEWF meeting, there was a feeling that a crisis was averted this year – that we could have ended up with major flooding in Minden again during the sudden spring downpour, or that our shorelines may have been laid bare as the TSW opened the reservoir lakes to keep the system to the south filled.
One executive member advised lakefront property owners to invest in sturdy infrastructure to combat wild weather.
It’s still early days of climate change. As Elizabeth May told the crowd in Minden, there is still hope to be had, but action is needed immediately. Otherwise, the increasingly extreme weather will be our new normal.