September 28: Climate Change, Invasive Species, and Urban Flooding

Adapting to a Changing Climate in Quebec

From catastrophic floods in 2017, to increasing coastal erosion in the gulf of the St. Lawrence River, to a heat wave in the summer of 2018 responsible for more than 90 deaths, climate change is here and Quebec is dealing with its impacts. We chatted over breakfast with a researcher studying what challenges these changes present for communities along the St. Lawrence River, and learned how provincial and municipal officials are responding to the new normal. 

There Go the Neighborhoods: Invasive Species as a Global Change Issue

There are more than 180 known exotic species in the Great Lakes, an invasion made possible by the St. Lawrence Seaway and its artificial connection between the lakes and the Atlantic. While most of these non-native species simply exist at low numbers with no discernible impact on the native ecosystem, a few – those prolific zebra mussels come to mind – have had dramatic and costly impacts. In response to this, ocean-going “salties” are now forced to “swish and spit,” or discharge ballast water they took in at foreign freshwater ports at sea and take on salt water to kill anything hitchhiking in their ballast tanks. Proponents of this measure touted its success since no new exotic species had been detected since 2006. But, just this summer, two new non-native species of zooplankton were found in Lake Erie. We heard about all of this, but also broadened the discussion of invasive species to a more global perspective or, as some researchers likes to call it, a “global change” issue; invasive species have many parallels to climate change, from their impacts on ecosystems across the planet to their own brand of “invasive species denialism.”

No Avoiding an Awkward Segue: Back to Extreme Precipitation and Urban Floods 

During the spring of 2017, sustained record rains and rapid snowmelt sent the St. Lawrence River over its banks across Quebec, flooding more than 5,000 homes – most acutely in Montreal, where the Ottawa River joins the fray. Residents and officials on both sides of the border blamed the IJC for mishandling water levels under the new Plan 2014, but in fact the entire Great Lakes system was high and Lake Ontario was overwhelmed. Now, looking at a climate-changing future of wetter weather and unpredictable flows, scientists and local officials are working to be better prepared for the next flood. We heard from one researcher who’s sounding the alarm and asking for action.