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We are already experiencing a “new normal” of summer drought and winter flooding in the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). We need to prepare for hotter, drier summers, wetter winters, and more frequent, intense storms. Our changing climate may impact our clean drinking water, landscaping and gardens, food and wine production, recreation and tourism opportunities, fish and wildlife habitat, and economic prosperity.
An important part of adapting to climate change is protecting our drinking water and watersheds. Watershed protection is a key investment in CVRD’s future to maintain our quality of life and ensure long-term fiscal management. This includes a strategic water preparedness plan to make sure our water supply is protected. The alternative is a reactive approach which would lead to increasing costs to the taxpayers without a proper plan.
What are the Impacts of Climate Change?
- Drought – Water is fundamentally linked to our quality of life – our food, our health, our economic prosperity, and our environment. In the CVRD, our watersheds are under stress and climate change is already impacting our water resources. Warmer temperatures can drastically reduce winter snowpack, meaning less spring runoff to fill streams, reservoirs, and aquifers. More frequent summer drought will increase water demand for agriculture and communities, at the very time when our water supplies are at their lowest.
- Flooding – Precipitation in the region has also been changing as the climate changes. Heavy rains have brought flooding to our region and impacted our homes, properties, and roads. As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water. We will see increased rainfall, falling mostly in more intense fall and winter storms. These storms and the rapid runoff of stormwater increase the risks of flooding in our rivers and streams and damages our infrastructure and settlements. While there have been some initiatives to address these issues, a comprehensive approach for our watersheds is needed to ensure that risks are managed.
- Wildfire – The wildfires across BC this past summer remind us increased summer heat brings more risk of wildfire in and around our communities. With summer droughts, surface and groundwater levels are reduced, meaning additional conservation is necessary. Water management can help enhance reliability for water now and in the future. It also helps us monitor trends in our environment that help us understand the risks so we can target solutions.
- Sea Level Rise – Climate change is also leading to rising sea levels, withincreased risk of flooding on our coasts and estuaries – places where we live, play, and work. Combinations of extreme high tides, storm surges, and river flooding, although rarely occurring at the same time, can cause coastal flooding in areas that were formerly beyond the reach of floodwaters. For planning communities and infrastructure in the region, it’s necessary to understand the range and rates of potential sea level rise and how we can adapt.
Planning to Adapt
For planning purposes, the Government of British Columbia is suggesting we plan for a sea level rise of approximately one metre by year 2100 and two metres by 2200. Recent evidence suggests sea levels are rising more rapidly than previously predicted and these flood hazard guidelines may be revised to plan for even higher sea levels.
Planning for future sea levels also applies to the design of subdivisions and the management of habitats – how can we adapt to future flood levels that will rise gradually for centuries? Or to increased temperatures that impact our rivers? Or to more summer droughts that impact our economic prosperity? We need to provide space to allow our ecosystems to adapt, and we also need to adjust our communities to be ready for climate change.
Not all of the impacts of climate change on our homes and infrastructure will be noticeable every day. It’s the occasional extreme events that will make the headlines and cause the greatest hardship. Imagine an extreme drought that causes crop failure, water reservoir shortages, and extraordinary wildfires. Or extreme river or coastal flooding due to a combination of storm surge, tides, wind, waves and sea level rise that overcome existing defenses.
The first step is to allow for climate change in our planning, design, and construction. If we anticipate future extreme events, we can avoid the worst consequences by a combination of thoughtful design and emergency planning. If we are prepared, we can minimize regret and learn to thrive with climate change.
How Can the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service Help?
The proposed Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service could bring awareness of climate change, water supply, and watershed considerations into land use and infrastructure planning across the region. Each development provides some benefit and has some impacts. The program will strive to understand the cumulative benefits and impacts of many development decisions. With monitoring and scientific data, the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service will help guide appropriate locations for development, and appropriate use of infrastructure planning and low impact development so that the benefits of development far outweigh the cumulative impacts as the communities grow and thrive.
Learn More About Climate Change
Learn more about climate change and its impacts on the region by watching the BC Adapts Video Series. The 12-module series focuses on three subject areas:
- Coastal Flood Management
- Rainwater Management
- Water Conservation
Start with the Climate Change Backgrounder for an overview.
Choose our Future
If you would like to learn more about the proposed Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service, please join us at the following public information event to listen to a presentation and ask questions so you can make an informed vote on October 20 – the proposed service will be a referendum question.
- MILL BAY – Tuesday, October 9 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Mill Bay Community League Hall
1035 Shawnigan Mill Bay Road, Mill Bay