September 22, 2017

2017 Ontario Climate Symposium – Workstream D: Future of the Water System + Ecohealth

OCC 2017 climate symposium logo

Session 1D: Future of the Water System


  • Increased rainfall related to climate change is a significant threat to existing infrastructure.
  • New engineering and policy approaches are needed to cope with new climate context.



Chaired by Kurt Kornelsen from FloodNet, this panel focused on modeling flood impact scenarios in Ontario. Specific topics discussed included the engineering challenges related to increased rainfall, the harm that rainfall causes to animal habitats, new stormwater policies, and damage caused by droughts.

Fabio Tonto from Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) presented on the engineering challenges associated with preparing for increased rainfall and rising water levels.

Current engineering standards for mitigating rainfall are based on out-of-date intensity-duration-frequency (IDF) calculations. This means environmental infrastructure is ill prepared for intense weather events.

As Tonto argued, municipal and provincial governments need to adopt standards that include up-to-date IDF curves.

Karen Hofbauer from Matrix Solutions discussed the effects climate change has been having on regional ecological features.

Future climate data analysis shows temperature and precipitation trending upwards, leading to increased runoff and flows. This trend has been harmful to existing wildlife by threatening the stability of natural habitats.

Hofbauer argued that adaptation measures are needed to keep up and mitigate the damage.

Amna Tariq, a senior specialist at Credit Valley Conservation, talked about developing quality management standards for wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

Tariq has been working on a new set of policy proposals that will attempt to consistently and effectively manage stormwater and wastewater quality. This will include the development of new procedures of due diligence, and to support continual improvements based on changing climate conditions.

A pilot of Tariq’s policy proposal is currently underway in the Town of Caledon, Ontario.

Ioannis K. Tsanis, Professor Emeritus of Engineering at McMaster University, closed out the session by speaking about changes caused by droughts and flooding in Europe, and the effects on major basins.

Tsanis also reviewed a number of flood and runoff modelling methods that could serve to help protect from future flooding.


Session 2D: Greenspace Protection and Enhancement – A Critical Adaptation Measure to Protect Public Health in the 22nd Century (Part 1)


  • Our health relies on environmental health — although, because the connection is indirect, more education is needed.
  • Access to greenspace is positively associated with mental and physical health.



Facilitated by Suzanne Barrett from Barrett Consulting and Karen Morrison from York University, the two-part panel explored approaches to mitigating public health risks associated with climate change. Topics discussed included the ecological determinants of health, the role of urban and rural forests in protecting human health, and the role of greenspace in addressing heat and air pollution.

The first speaker was Mike Puddister from EcoHealth Ontario, who spoke about ecological health and climate change. He presented significant evidence on the connection between access to green space and health, both physical and mental.

Puddister’s work is also concerned with building community action on greenspace. EcoHealth Ontario is currently developing a series of policy recommendations related to greenspace improvements.

York University’s Karen Morrison presented on the connection between climate change and social determinants of health.

Her presentation introduced the concept of ecohealth. As Morrison explained it, if we accept that we rely on the environment to sustain our health by producing the air we breath and food we eat, we understand “Ecohealth”.

Nevertheless, it can be difficult to convey the importance of preserving the environment, because the benefits are indirect do not feel immediate. For this reason, she endorses ecohealth education initiatives.

Rob Keen of Forests Ontario brought a forestry perspective to the conversation by discussing recent trends in deforestation. Clear cutting as a method of resource extraction is unsustainable, he argued, and other approaches should be preferred.

Echoing Morrison’s sentiments, Keen expressed concern that the threat to forests doesn’t feel immediate enough for people. Like her, he sees education as a critical part of getting people to understand how forests directly impact their lives.

Marina Whelan from Simcoe Muskoka Public Health presented on the role that green spaces play in overall strategies for improving public health.

Traditionally public health departments are concerned with disease prevention and public safety. Public health departments, however, are increasingly interested in green spaces because of the growing evidence demonstrating a positive impact on mental health, exercise, air quality, and flood protection.

Tara Zupancic from Habitus Research talked about the connection between greenspace and public health, focusing on the importance of “greening” dense areas of the city. According to Zupancic, there are many under-utilized parts of cities that could be appropriate for green space transformations.

In addition to improving air quality, one of the most notable advantages of adding greenspace is that it can naturally cool temperatures, especially in dense urban areas. Since vulnerable populations such as seniors and the very young are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures and poor air quality, greening cities is an obvious public health boon. 


Session 3D: Greenspace Protection and Enhancement – A Critical Adaptation Measure to Protect Public Health in the 22nd Century (Part 2)


  • Greenspace improves neighborhood health by encouraging physical exercise.
  • Greenspace should be added to underutilized spaces like roofs and side streets.
  • Designing new green spaces should be community-led.



In this session, attendees participated in an interactive workshop to develop a call to action on greenspace as an adaptive measure for climate change. The activity was divided into four discussion topics: discover, dream, design and deliver.

Discover: This topic explored examples of existing greenspace approaches that integrate health and wellbeing successfully. Recreational areas like tennis courts, basketball courts, and soccer fields were mentioned as positively contributing to health and wellbeing.

A major theme that emerged was how green spaces are integrated with the rest of the neighborhood, and how that integration leads neighborhood walkability. Another important consideration: protecting and promoting wildlife habitats in urban green spaces.

Dream: The focus during this discussion was the potential for new innovations in green space integration. Some key ideas for the future included greening rooftop spaces, turning under-utilized street space into parklands, greening alleyways to make communities more connected, and de-paving school grounds.

Design: Ideas for new approaches to green space design were discussed in this section of the panel. Among them: preserving existing topsoil when planning new parks, incorporating “biomimicry” into designs to better integrate parks with the natural environment, and making the design process more community-focused.

Deliver: The panel concluded with discussion on how to implement all of the ideas around greenspaces. Suggestions included greater emphasis on community education to foster more involvement, better integration of social, health and environmental initiatives into greenspace, policy reform on climate change adaptation, and coordinated action with allies.