GUIDANCE DOCUMENT: “Too Small to Fail – How Communities Can Prepare for Bigger Storms” (Intact Centre, November 2018)

Note to Reader:

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre) is an applied research centre with a national focus within the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. The Intact Centre works with homeowners, communities, governments and businesses to identify, and reduce, the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. Read their brochure to learn more.

Importance of Community-Based Projects: “Smaller scale, agile efforts to limit flood risk can collectively contribute to ensuring the resiliency of communities,” states Dr. Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre)

A new report from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo stresses the importance of community-based projects to reduce increasing flood risk in Canada. The Intact Centre is an incubator of new adaptation ideas, conducting research, knowledge mobilization and promoting initiatives aimed at de-risking the negative impacts of a changing climate and extreme weather. The projects were grouped into three categories:

  • Empowering Landowners;
  • Rain Gardens, Bioretention Systems, and Permeable Pavement; and
  • Restoration of Banks and Shorelines.

While the two projects under the Empowering Landowners category were educational, the projects under the other two categories involved the application of flood risk mitigation measures.

A featured project is the Across Canada Workshop Series: Showcasing British Columbia’s “Water Balance Model Express for Landowners”. In 2014, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia led the Across Canada Workshop Series on Adapting to a Changing Climate. Workshops were held in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. The Express is an online tool.

The Imperative for Flood Risk Reduction

In recent years we have seen a dramatic rise in insurable losses related to extreme weather events in Canada, and we have seen insurance payouts average $1.8 billion over the past nine years, up from an average of $400 million just a decade prior,” reports Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

“The increase in costs is due in part to flooding, and this new report identifies some practical mitigation measures municipalities and NGOs can take to limit the impacts of bigger storms that we expect to see in coming years.”

Too Small to Fail:

“The lesson of this report rests with its focus on the utility of small-scale, local flood mitigation projects. Attention is often directed to large-scale initiatives that are deemed ‘too large to fail’, meaning that their collapse would cause catastrophic and irreparable damage,” continues Blair Feltmate.

“However, as illustrated in the report, smaller scale, agile efforts to limit flood risk can collectively contribute to ensuring the resiliency of communities – accordingly, the perceived simplicity of such projects should not be undervalued.”

Empowering Landowners

“Partnerships and community engagement can significantly contribute to the success of a project. There are many ways in which a partner can add value to a project, such as through providing scientific expertise or having a significant level of influence and leadership in a community,” adds Dana Decent, Manager of the Intact Centre

“Engaging local stakeholders is critical, as they are the ones who are directly impacted by floods in an area. Continual engagement of stakeholders can result in greater widespread support, which could last well beyond the first few years following a project’s implementation.”

Across Canada Workshop Series

The concept of “Shifting Baselines” has relevance in helping to understand why drivers for “Resilient Rainwater Management” differ across Canada’s diverse landscapes. To help inform knowledge-sharing via the Across Canada Workshop Series, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC released a backgrounder titled Creating the Future in BC: Recognize and Address the “Shifting Baseline”.

Coined by Dr. Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, the phrase Shifting Baseline Syndrome describes an incremental eroding of standards that results with each new generation lacking knowledge of the historical, and presumably more natural, condition of the environment. Each generation then defines what is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ according to current conditions and personal experiences.

“The Across Canada Workshop Series undertaken by British Columbia’s Partnership for Water Sustainability engaged over 266 people in four provinces, the majority with municipal governments, successfully spreading the word about relevant online tools homeowners can take to reduce flood risk on their property,” reports Dana Decent.