“No Time to Lose – Canadian water and wastewater sectors must
adapt to climate change” by Hiran Sandanayake appeared in watercanada’s July / Aug 2014 issue
A few years ago, Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA ) staff asked its members a simple question: “How prepared are the Canadian water and wastewater sectors for climate change and extreme events?”
On the World Environment Day 2014, the Rhone Mediterranean Corsica water agency launched an animated film on adaptation to climate change in the water sector. Climate change is here. Let’s adapt! The French Government, the Rhone Mediterranean Corsica water agency, the regions of Franche-Comté, Burgundy, Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur have engaged in a plan to adapt to change climate. Making the ground permeable again to allow water to infiltrate, reducing water waste, preserving wetlands and biodiversity… the plan proposes a range of measures to reduce the vulnerability of territories.
After discussions, meetings, and a poll, the CWWA developed a quick snapshot. There was some good news: some municipalities saw climate change as a risk worth addressing. Some of them were establishing climate-change policies and strategies, quantifying climate-change risk, and developing adaptation programs for climate change and extreme events.
Unfortunately, there were warning signs, too. There appeared to be a wide range in levels of preparedness across the country. As the national voice for the water and wastewater sector, CWWA felt it urgent to advocate for climate-change adaptation and provide guidance.
CWWA created a new national technical committee for climate change. Since then, it has been bringing early adaptation adopters and champions together to spark a dialogue, learn from each other’s experiences, and learn about data and technical tools available for water and wastewater managers and utilities.
Another short video published Oct. 14, 2013 dealing with this topic is,”Preparing Great Lakes Cities for Climate Change: Adapting to Change and Building Resilience”, emphasizing collaboration between Canada and the USA regarding these concerns.
For communities in the Great Lakes region climate change poses unique challenges and creates intriguing opportunities. While many regions of the country face catastrophic threats of sea level rise or tragic outbreaks of wildfires, climate change impacts in the Great Lakes region create more subtle and insidious stresses on the way we live, work and play in our communities. At the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute, we are working to address these impacts and develop strategies for building more resilient cities.
Through my role as chair of the climate-change committee, I have had the privilege of learning from and working with a broad range of professionals from water and wastewater utilities, the private sector, government departments, and academia. During this time, some themes have become apparent to me:
• Adaptation to climate change often requires multi-disciplinary approaches.
• Climate-change planning is founded on many existing municipal planning processes.
• Incremental approaches to climate-change adaptation may not be sufficient.
• Local climate-change risk assessments and proper data are critical to making informed decisions. Without these, proposed solutions may result in monies not being spent on the true priorities or, worse,
may result in maladaption (unintentional exacerbation of vulnerabilities).
• Applying a true climate-change lens to water and wastewater planning may result in different solutions; place new emphasis on non-traditional or non-infrastructure intensive approaches to water management and protection during extreme events; force us to re-examine traditional approaches to uncertainty, risk, vulnerability, and level of service; and require changes now to increase resiliency.
Lessons from extreme events can be instructive for climate-change planning. These events sometimes highlight linkages not readily apparent during normal operations (for example, the limitations of municipal human resources, municipal cash flow/financing, public preparedness, et cetera). In some cases, the lack of mandates and efforts coordinated between jurisdictions can also further complicate adaptation efforts.
Funding for climate-change adaptation is needed, not only by the municipal utilities but also by the regional, provincial, and federal departments that are providing research, technical guidance, and coordination.
Though we have already seen successes in climate change adaptation and collaboration, we are still in the early days of this process. For our part, the CWWA climate-change committee will be polling municipalities to get an updated survey of the state of climate-change adaptation. We are also creating an electronic resource databank and have other technical and coordination initiatives in the early planning stages.
The time is now to begin the adaptation process. Quantifying local risks and increasing resiliency now is the best and most cost-effective strategy.
Interesting related article ~