DEALING WITH UNCERTAINTY AND MANAGING RISK: “Climate change impacts are risks which can be addressed by aligning asset lifecycles to performance or change thresholds which consider how levels-of-service are likely to deteriorate in response to climate changes impacts,” stated Robert Hicks (Summer 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter)
The Summer 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter includes an article co-written by Kim Stephens and Robert Hicks of the Partnership for Water Sustainability to open minds about foundational concepts upon which to build climate adaptation strategies that result in whole-system water management outcomes.
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Restore the Balance in the Water Balance
“Robert Hicks and I have observed that, for all the talk over a long period of time about climate change and what it means, many local government practitioners still lack a full understanding of some foundational concepts and how to translate such concepts into resilient solutions and actions that would benefit their communities. In our article, we provide food for thought,” stated Kim Stephens.
“Too often, in our experience, there is a tendency to add layers of complexity and lose sight of the nature of a problem as well as the obvious solution. Our purpose in writing the article, then, was introduce the Asset Management BC readership to a foundational concept, namely Water OUT=Water IN, and open minds to spark conversations within local governments about what this deceptively simple equation means from the operational perspective.”
A Shrinking Safety Factor
“Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. Over time, the safety factor has been shrinking. While it rains a lot in BC, we do not have an abundance of supply when demand is greatest. In addition, the mountainous nature of BC’s geography means that BC communities are typically storage-constrained, and what storage they do have is measured in weeks to months.”
“As of 2015, we clearly crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydrometeorological regime in Western North America. Winters are warmer and wetter. Summers are longer and drier. This new reality has huge consequences for water security, sustainability, and resiliency.”
“A generation ago, water supply managers could reasonably anticipate that three months of water storage would be sufficient to maintain supply during a dry summer. Today, however, a 6-month drought is a very real likelihood, and on a repeating basis. In the meantime, populations have also grown in the major centres.”
Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk
“The key message in our article is that climate change is not a driver; rather, it is another variable. Climate change is only one factor to consider when we talk about sustainable infrastructure and sustainable water supply. The real issues are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how we deal with the first and manage the latter,” continued Robert Hicks.
“A constant challenge for planning is not to prevent past events, but instead is to use past experiences to inform and create flexible strategies for the present and the future. Furthermore, this need for flexibility is not restricted to the immediate scope of the problem at hand; but must also consider the broader juggling of evolving local government priorities and service demands.”
“This leads to the challenge of assessing problems with sufficient complexity to arrive at flexible and resilient solutions, while at the same time not being overwhelmed and paralyzed by over-analysis.”
“Climate change impacts are risks which can be addressed by aligning asset lifecycles to performance or change thresholds which consider how levels-of-service are likely to deteriorate in response to climate changes impacts. Lifecycles must therefore be considered and re-aligned with the new changing ‘normal’ conditions.”
Climate Change Impacts are Not Optional
“If we look at the variability in climate change impact scenarios that may occur within many asset lifecycles, we may get distracted by the uncertainty and statistical variance of the magnitude among the anticipated changes for key parameters that inform levels-of-service.”
“Another way to consider this variance and uncertainty is to not look at the variation of key parameters for a given future year, but rather consider the time-range that a key performance threshold might be reached.”
“For asset management, the consideration is how and when assets might be compromised in their lifecycle by climate change and certainly that new assets need to consider what climate change impacts will affect their lifecycle and levels-of-service.”
To Learn More:
To read the complete article, download a copy of Restore the Balance in Water Balance – Climate Change is Another Variable When Planning for Sustainable Service Delivery, Dealing With Uncertainty, and Managing Risk
In addition, download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk.