Anticipating New Climate Realities
Most components of our built environment have been designed and built based on an understanding of historic weather patterns which we know are changing. Climate change will bring environmental impacts that could physically threaten our built environment or challenge its ability to serve the needs of residents and businesses. What’s more, uncertainty about the exact nature of the climate changes and environmental impacts we will see in the future is making it harder for architects or engineers to confidently design systems that will last for their intended lifespan.
In the Columbia Basin, the four top climate challenges our communities are expecting are flooding, drought, wildfire and severe storms.
Around the world, flood events have been increasing in both frequency and intensity.
In the Basin, more frequent intense rainstorms, increased glacier melt, and more rain falling on frozen ground or snow are all projected for the future and increase the risk of flooding. The potential for landslides also increases when sloped areas get saturated by heavy rainfall.
Rural areas and small urban centres can be devastated in a flood. This can include loss or damage to homes and businesses, contaminated wells, and flooded septic systems. Rebuilding may not always be an option because of future flood risk. These events also cause short- and longer-term social and mental health impacts.
A low snowpack, long periods of hot and dry weather, and a delay in seasonal rainfall can all lead to drought.
Drought impacts the water supply available for homes and businesses, recreation, and for growing food and raising livestock. Lower streamflows may cause warmer water temperatures, which affect fish and other aquatic life. Reduced streamflows may impact groundwater levels. Drought also increases the risk of wildfire.
Check out the map to view drought conditions in our region over the past 5 years.
When conditions are hot and dry, a spark is far more likely to cause a fire. Lightning is, on average, responsible for 61% of BC fires, and warming temperatures increase the probability of lightning.
Many Canadian studies agree that wildfires are predicted to increase in size and frequency along with climate change.
Wildfires can have devastating consequences:
- Evacuation orders
- Smoke and air quality issues
- Economic disruption
- Loss of tourism / visitors
- Damage/loss of homes, buildings and community infrastructure
- Increased erosion and sedimentation of community water sources
- Displaced wildlife
- Mental health (anxiety, stress, trauma, depression)
Check out the map to view a history of wildfire in our region.
Changing atmospheric circulation patterns can cause more severe storms in some regions and drought in others.
The Basin may experience these changes as an increased risk of extreme rainstorms, snowstorms, windstorms and freezing rain events.
Severe rain, snowfall and freezing rain events pose risks to human safety, property and local infrastructure, and can disrupt local utilities, services, and businesses.
Every severe storm event will trigger a unique chain of environmental, economic, structural and social impacts.
Insurance industry data confirms that extreme weather events in North America occurred seven times more often in the last decade than from 1961 to 1990.
Check out the map to see how rainfall is expected to become more extreme in our region.
Adapting Infrastructure and Policies
Managers of our publicly-funded infrastructure (including roadways, water systems and stormwater management systems) are taking steps to evaluate vulnerability to projected climate changes, and take action to address identified priorities. For example, the City of Kimberley redevelop and naturalized a portion of Mark Creek to withstand a 200-year flood event. The Village of Kaslo improved its water security by repairing leaks on its system that resulted in system-wide demand reductions of almost 40%. Check out the map for more detail on these initiatives.
Many Basin communities are also addressing climate change in their Official Community Plans and have updated bylaws and policies with new standards and practices that reflect the challenges of a changing climate.
The growing risk of wildfire, severe storms and flooding means that home, neighbourhood, business and community emergency preparedness and response is becoming even more important. The province’s 2017 Flood and Wildfire Review made 108 recommendations to strengthen emergency prevention, planning, preparedness, and response.
Check out the links below for guidance on how to get prepared for emergencies, and have a look at the map to see what your neighbours are doing.
Fire Smart and Wildfire Protection
Wildfire protection efforts need to happen at both the community and household scales.
Many Basin local governments have developed Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which provide a roadmap for reducing wildfire risk and protecting infrastructure in their community.
Some neighbourhoods, such as Akisqnuk First Nation in the East Kootenay, are achieving FireSmart designation, meaning that they have worked with an interface fire specialist to plan and implement solutions to fire risk in their area. Check out the map for more details.
As the ultimate consumers of infrastructure and emergency preparedness services, it is up to residents and businesses to do their part. Water conservation is one way that consumers and governments can work together to improve security of water supplies in the face of climate change.
From 2009 to 2016, Columbia Basin Trust’s Water Smart Initiative was a catalyst for communities- level water conservation. Water Smart’s Ambassadors shared effective watering strategies for lawns and gardens with residents, and for municipal fields and parks with local governments.