By Henry Vissers
I'm sure many of you have heard the story about the little Dutch boy.
In the story, he is walking along a dike and sees a hole with water trickling through. It goes on to say that any child in the Netherlands will shudder at the thought of a leak in the dike.
And so, the boy spent the entire night with his finger in the dike and when found in the morning was hailed as a hero.
Recent weather activity has prompted many Colchester County residents to question the dyke system in our county. This system has been in place for 350 years and was originally built by the Acadians and improved during the years.
The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture (NSDA) is responsible for maintaining dikes in Nova Scotia. This makes sense in that the system was put in place to create and then protect farmland.
Nova Scotia has 43,000 acres of dike land, which is 10 per cent of Nova Scotia's 430,000 acres of active farmland. This land was created from former salt marches and is some of the most fertile land we farm.
An inquiry a few years ago on the original dike construction yielded this response from NSDA:
‘The dikes were built by cutting blocks of sod with sharp, flat shovels or spades. These sods were piled on top of each other and reinforced with spruce bows to add strength and rigidity to the structure.
The outer (seaward) side of the dike was also lined with logs or rocks in some cases. The top and inner side of the dike was covered with soil and grass was planted. The grass roots provide structure and strength to hold the soil in place.
Weeds or traffic (vehicles or humans) can damage or kill out the grass and leave a bare spot. This bare spot will be subject to erosion by rain and wind and will eventually lead to collapse of the dike if not repaired.'
Climate change prediction and sea level rise are risks that will affect the dike system and when we have weather events like the recent floods it stains the system. The force of 100 millimetres of rain along with the pressure of high tide can strain the system.
Infrastructure spending on increasing the height of the dikes and the ongoing maintenance system are key to the protection of this valuable resource. Following the recent flood, provincial Justice Minister Ross Landry, speaking on behalf of Premier Darrell Dexter, stated that the provincial government would be willing to look at cost-sharing for improvements.
Many of the characteristics of farmland also make it attractive for residential, commercial and public development, hence the development of some of these lands in the Truro area as well as other towns in the province.
The dike system protects much more than farm land as was originally intended. Clearly any solution to the maintenance and improvement of dike land should also be a collaborative effort and should not be borne by the NSDA and the farm community.
The recent flood in Colchester, and the issues around the Aboiteaux in Amherst are just the thin edge of the wedge in the need for more funding.
The province commissioned a study several years ago and the report from this committee, titled Preservation of Agriculture Land in Nova Scotia, stated ‘it is incumbent upon the provincial government to take the lead in bringing all the players together to begin the development of a comprehensive and probably costly, program to protect the many assets, resources and communities that depend on the dike system for protection.'
It's time to follow through on that recommendation.
Henry Vissers is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. He lives with his family in Valley.