How Blue Infrastructure Makes Cities Resilient To Climate Change

Blue Infrastructure Cover Image

Blue By Design

If you missed the first two articles in this series on living and green infrastructure, go back and check them out. This is the final installment of my living infrastructure series. While blue infrastructure is the lesser known of the three, it’s just as important! 

Blue infrastructure concerns anything related to water, such as wetlands, bioswales, canals, and water treatment facilities. The greatest benefit of blue infrastructure is its ability to mitigate flooding by increasing urban flood resilience.

Resilience is an important term in the urban greening industry. The goal of living infrastructure as a whole is to increase the ability of cities to “bounce back” after storms. With large, intense storms becoming more common due to climate change and urbanization, this is a must for the future of urban planning.

appreciating trees

Street Trees to the Rescue

If you’ve read my article on green infrastructure, you’ll know how much I love street trees! They’re obviously integral to urban greening. Now, let’s look at bioswales. This form of blue infrastructure can take many shapes, but it’s often hidden beneath street trees. It works to channel stormwater runoff while also removing debris and pollution through the soil and mulch that the trees sit in.

It makes for a pretty sweet design! As an added bonus, when storm water does reach the management plant, it has already gone through one level of filtration. The other benefit of these is that the water is absorbed and controlled. In cities, heavy rainfall can easily cause flooding. The large amounts of concrete and impermeable surfaces leave the water with nowhere to go. That’s where bioswales come in.

An excellent example of blue infrastructure, bioswales help to prevent flooding by absorbing and managing stormwater runoff.
Bioswales help prevent flooding by absorbing and managing storm water runoff. [Image: Milena Dinic Brankovic/Research Gate].

They’re a perfect example of how green and blue infrastructure collaborate. Together, they can make a city more resilient to the effects of climate change. By lining our streets with trees planted in bioswales, we can effectively manage storm water runoff and mitigate flooding.

Vancouver’s Rain City Strategy

In 2019, Vancouver implemented their Rain City Strategy. As one of Canada’s rainiest cities, this was a wise investment. This initiative focuses on managing rainwater in order to improve water quality as well as the livability of urban ecosystems.

The goal is to capture 90% of the rainwater and make it usable as a resource. In doing so, it avoids treating it as a waste product. The city is doing this by incorporating permeable pavement, absorbent landscapes, rainwater tree trenches, and other blue infrastructure.

“Plants and soils absorb and clean rain where it falls, returning it to our waterways and atmosphere. Rain is absorbed and cleaned by plants, soils and returned to our waterways by our sewer system.”

Rain City Strategy
Blue infrastructure has the ability to increase the resiliency of a city by reducing the impact of extreme rainstorms on existing infrastructure.
Blue infrastructure has the ability to increase the resiliency of a city by reducing the impact of extreme rainstorms on existing infrastructure. [Image: City of Vancouver]

Blue Infrastructure Goes Way Back

When I say way back, I don’t mean back to the ancient Roman times (although their aqueducts would beg to differ😉). My neck of the woods has a really unique example of blue infrastructure, although it didn’t quite set out with the same goals of today’s BI. I’m from Ottawa, Ontario, and we’re home to one end of the Rideau Canal.

This river is extra special to me because it also happens to be my workplace. Indeed, I’ve been working for Parks Canada for the past four, soon to be five, summers. It’s been a great experience, and I genuinely appreciate all the blue infrastructure. River management is key!

For its part, the Rideau River runs from Kingston to Ottawa, a distance of just over 200km. It was built in the early 1800s, as a secure means of transport to the Ottawa River opposed to the vulnerable St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s home to 45 slack water locks, beautiful riverside parks and a boater’s paradise. You should totally check it out!

The Rideau Canal is also much more than a summer destination. It actually contains several dams. As a result, Parks Canada is responsible for all water management. So, when it rains, we adjust the dams accordingly. If we didn’t make adjustments, the river would either flood or become unnavigable for boats. Heavy rain has the potential to wash out certain major roads that run along the canal, so proper water management is crucial!

The story of the Rideau Canal: A major engineering feat of the 19th century  - The Globe and Mail
Watson’s Mill in Manotick, Ontario is just one of many dams on the Rideau River that prevent flooding. [Image: Globe and Mail]

Small Steps Lead to Great Things

You might be thinking, “Well that’s great, but how does this affect me? I don’t even live in a city!” Regardless, there are still ways to implement blue infrastructure at home. Even if you aren’t directly impacted by urban flooding. In fact, many out there are already do it!

For instance by having a rain barrel out on the front porch or balcony. It really does have a number of benefits. You might not think of this as blue infrastructure, but it is water management after all, isn’t it?!

When you place a rain barrel under your drain spout, you avoid erosion caused by the torrent of water that runs over your gardens or lawn during a storm. At home, I use water from the rain barrel to water my gardens instead of water from the hose. Blue infrastructure is all about water, so reading up on how you can conserve water is the next best thing you can do!😃

Joey sadly looking into the rain
Don’t be sad! Rain is a resource!

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