CWWA survey shows significant interest in natural infrastructure solutions

Natural infrastructure image
CWWA indicated that it will now develop a position statement with respect to natural infrastructure using the survey results. Photo Credit: CWWA

A new report from the Canadian Water & Wastewater Association (CWWA) reveals that more than 80% of survey respondents see the use of natural infrastructure as a potential solution for certain issues with stormwater management or flooding, while just 15% indicated the use of a single definition of natural infrastructure across their organization. 

The survey of 60 questions was carried out by the CWWA over two months in 2023 to gauge the water sector’s current level of understanding and adoption around the concept of natural infrastructure.  

The collected and analyzed results of the survey form the basis of the report “Adoption of Natural Infrastructure in the Water Sector” by CWWA’s Utility Leadership Committee and Climate Change Committee.  

Some 129 organizations participated in the survey, representing utilities, consultants, suppliers and government, primarily from Ontario, and mostly from municipalities.  

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“The results indicate that, while there is a general understanding of what constitutes natural infrastructure, there is still a need for universally-accepted terminology and definition,” the CWWA report states.  

As natural infrastructure can have various and inconsistent definitions, CWWA says it relies on the one formed in 2018 by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). It considers natural infrastructure to be “the use of preserved, restored or enhanced elements or combinations of vegetation and associated biology, land, water and naturally occurring ecological processes to meet targeted infrastructure outcomes.” 

The majority of responses from survey respondents indicated that their objectives for implementing natural infrastructure programs and projects were for well-established initiatives such as watershed protection, flood and erosion management, stormwater management and receiving water quality improvement. Other purposes included reducing overflow to rivers, as well as resource management and enhancing wetlands for wildlife. 

The most common barriers among survey respondents wanting to implement natural infrastructure solutions were identified as a lack of “knowledge” to adequately support greater implementation, a lack of understanding around the benefits and performance of natural infrastructure, as well as a lack of funding.  

Approximately 25% of respondents indicated that they have been incorporating natural infrastructure concepts and practices for more than 10 years.  

About 35 examples of ongoing natural infrastructure projects were provided by survey respondents. For example, the City of Calgary shared that more than 100 riparian restoration and bioengineering projects have been implemented since 2007 for fish habitat enhancement and flood mitigation. Additionally, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality shared its 2012 project to reduce stormwater impact to the Wentworth Creek Watershed through bioretention areas created for the Membertou First Nation.   

Survey respondents widely noted that they view the CWWA’s role as both an information provider and facilitator. They suggested that CWWA could curate existing knowledge and best practices for the adoption of natural infrastructure and make those resources (e.g., online resources, training programs/manuals, webinars, conference sessions) available to stakeholders. 

CWWA indicated that it will now develop a position statement with respect to natural infrastructure using the survey results.  

“From the response to the survey and the high quality of the information received, it is apparent that natural infrastructure concepts and practices are of significant interest to CWWA’s members and other stakeholders,” stated the CWWA report.  

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