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'Extreme rainfall' could add billions in costs to Ontario's water infrastructure upkeep: FAO

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Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer estimates more frequent extreme rain will add $6.2 billion to the cost of maintaining waste and stormwater infrastructure by 2030.

In a report unveiled Tuesday, the FAO anticipates proactively making pipes, mains, and culverts more climate change-resistant would cost $71 billion by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions don't dramatically increase.

That figure climbs to $88 billion if no adaptions are made, and $89 billion if the changes are reactive.

In a higher-emission scenario with only reactive changes made, maintenance costs could hit $148 billion.

But Peter Weltman explains those numbers don't capture all the risks.

"When you don't adapt your infrastructure, then you leave it vulnerable to overland flooding as a result of the infrastructure not being able to get the water out of there."

Pedestrians with umbrellas make their way through a passage during heavy rains in Toronto on Saturday December 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The FAO did not dig into the potential damage caused to homes and businesses in the event of flooding that might be prevented by more climate-resistant infrastructure.

Storm and wastewater systems are owned by Ontario municipalities, but cities and towns are limited in the ways they generate revenue to cover big changes.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks says the government is committed to working with partners to keep waste and stormwater systems resilient and ready for the challenges ahead.

In an email, Daniel Stauss highlighted a $25-million investment to proactively build, upgrade and rehabilitate infrastructure.

The government is also developing a manual to provide guidance to municipalities, developers, and property owners on how to protect the environment, reduce and prepare for flood risk.

For Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, the FAO report emphasizes the need to have a credible plan to reduce climate pollution and to protect wetlands, and the Greenbelt.

Schreiner calls the extra spending needed for water infrastructure a result of the Premier's inaction on the climate file.

In other reports, the FAO estimated climate-related costs tied to transportation infrastructure and public buildings would total a combined $20 billion by 2030.

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