Updated: Oct 26, 2021
The former wetland that’s part of the 255 West St. S. property once destined for a recreation centre may be eligible for federal funding to be restored to its original state, which would mitigate flooding concerns in the area, said a local environmental consultant.
“More experts are now realizing that restoring wetlands in cities is so important in handling heavy rain water conditions which are now more frequent with the changing climate,” said Bob Bowles.
Bowles, who fought against the infilling of the wetland back in 2004, said climate change is resulting in heavier rains that are overloading the city’s stormwater capacity.
Wetlands act like sponges and are a lot less expensive than building stormwater infrastructure, said Bowles.
When the wetland was filled in — to create space for the planned multi-use recreational facility and parking project — the collected water stopped draining into Lake Simcoe.
Restoring the wetland would restore the flow that would help stem the tide of flooding that has taken place this year along the Lightfoot Trail in the James Street area, said Bowles.
“Ten years ago, I realized the potential of this wetland as it acted as a sponge taking up the excess water and then slowly releasing it into Ben’s Ditch which goes into Lake Simcoe,” he said.
In 2004, Bowles said he told his ward councillors the city needed to protect the wetland.
“They said it couldn’t be done. They went ahead and filled in the wetland,” he said. “Now, the experts are backing up what I said: how important the wetlands are … as sponge and purifying water conditions.
“With climate change, we are getting heavier flooding and what’s happening is the infrastructure is being overloaded. They are saying the most effective and cheapest way to mitigate this problem is by putting in urban wetlands,” he said, while a green heron flew over the trail.
However, that wetland wouldn’t help the flooding that has occurred in the Front Street, King Street and Queen Street areas as that water flows into Lake Couchiching. The expansion of another former wetland in the area of the Orillia and District Chamber of Commerce office on Front Street would reduce flooding in that area, he added.
Environment Canada, through the new National Wetland Conservation Fund (NWCF), is offering money for projects which would restore drained or lost wetlands on working and settled landscapes.
However, the City of Orillia would have to move fast to get federal funding as applications for funding must be received by Aug. 29. Projects would be completed in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to a NWCF document.
Mayor Angelo Orsi said it will cost about $7 million to cap the city-owned property at 255 West. St. S. The plan is to cap the 30-acre property in a layer of fill to the depth of between two to three feet in order to allow people to walk on it and/or to create a park.
Currently, the brownfield on which the city ultimately decided against building its recreation facility is fenced off from the public as stipulated by the Ministry of the Environment.
“It’s a lot of money to cap it so somebody can walk on it. So, if we can naturalize it and there is government funding for that and we can achieve a balance between nature and people, that would be great,” he said.
“I’m more than happy to entertain any suggestion that would put money back on the table,” he added.
Orsi added that another stormwater management facility will likely be needed in that area of Orillia as flooding is a continuing problem. The idea of stormwater management is to capture a large volume of water and then release it gradually, said Orsi.
That’s exactly what a wetland does, said Bowles.