Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trees and creeks are crucial to saving our cities

Great crop of shovel handles this year!
Pollution threatens the air we breathe and the water we drink, wash with, and swim in. But water issues go beyond pollution; not just water quality but water quantity can be a problem natural flows are disrupted.
Traditional urban/suburban development creates non-porous surfaces that repel water instead of absorbing it the way previous forests and meadows did. Rainwater then runs more quickly to streams and rivers, causing streams to overflow their banks. The traditional solution was to shore up the banks, straighten and smooth out the streams so the water could quickly flow past instead of flooding. But this creates new problems, especially as climate change brings more extreme weather like heavy rain or snowfall between longer droughts. Meanwhile, the removal of trees and shrubs from slopes or riverbanks speeds up topsoil erosion.
The solution is a return to natural ways of slowing and infiltrating rainwater, using vegetation and porous surfaces. Most streams that flow near or through our community are in sore need of restoration: planting more trees and other natural vegetation along the sides, returning to a meandering course through pools and water vegetation, and protecting as much porous surface as possible to slow the arrival of rain or melt water to streams. Renaturalizing water flow reduces the entry of pollutants or excess nutrients into our waterways, helps fish, prevents erosion, and offsets some effects of population growth and continued development.
One aspect of this work is the Creeks Project, an ongoing initiative of the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority. This wide-ranging set of efforts supports maintaining and improving the Lovers Creek and Barrie Creeks subwatersheds connecting to Lake Simcoe.
A big aspect, and a way you can participate, is through tree-planting. Trees provide many benefits, of course: they clean air and water, their blossoms feed bees, trees stabilize the land, produce oxygen we breathe and sequester carbon from the air, provide shade in the summer and wind breaks in the winter, create food and habitat for all kinds of wildlife.
But trees also play a special role in supporting our creeks. Their roots hold staggering amounts of water, helping to prevent or reduce flooding. They prevent erosion of stream banks. They help to clean and filter water before it enters our flowing streams. It has been estimated that a single tree, over 50 years, can provide as much as $150,000 worth of environmental services! Because of these many benefits, planting trees is among the cheapest, safest, and most effective ways of mitigating climate change.
That’s why Living Green partners with the Conservation Authority’s Creeks Project through the Urban Canopy Coalition to help plant more trees in our community. And our main task is to get you involved in this project. The two big ways you can help is through volunteering for our tree planting days, or through donations or sponsorships. On May 10th we are planting trees sponsored by the City of Barrie with a free BBQ provided by the Barrie South Lion’s Club. Then on May 24th, we are planting trees sponsored by the Rotary Club of Barrie-Huronia. If you are interested in helping out you can register at, and if your business or organization would like to sponsor this worthy project, please email to connect with us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Upcoming tree-planting helping the environment"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.