Intact Financial and University of Waterloo launch nationwide effort to weather-harden cities


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Projects will help communities adapt to climate change & extreme weather

In May 2014, Intact Financial Corporation and the University of Waterloo announced a national initiative involving the implementation of 20 climate change adaptation projects designed to reduce the physical, financial and social impacts of extreme weather events.

In British Columbia, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia will be conducting workshops for its “Water Balance Model Express for Landowners,” an online water management tool. Also, the Sea Level Rise Collaborative (SLRC) will conduct research and co-ordinate the implementation of adaptation measures to protect the coastlines of Metro Vancouver and Burrard Inlet.

A Changing Climate is a Reality

The frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events – from the floods in Southern Alberta and Toronto to the December ice storm in Central and Eastern Canada – are increasing, causing billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, businesses and homeowners.

1_Blair Feltmate_120p“Climate change is a reality, and the events of the last year clearly demonstrate the need to weather-harden our communities, our infrastructure and our homes,” said Dr. Blair Feltmate, chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP) at the University of Waterloo.

The 20 demonstration projects were selected from 75 submissions made by conservation authorities and non-governmental organizations from across the country. The projects, which will be carried out in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, are aimed at showcasing viable and cost-effective adaptation solutions that ultimately will be replicated in communities across the country. Additional projects will be announced through the year.

The projects emerged from CCAP’s 2012 report that outlined a roadmap of priorities and recommendations to adapt to climate change. They will focus primarily on reducing the impact of torrential precipitation on municipal infrastructure through the restoration of urban wetlands and water channels, and the deployment of green infrastructure initiatives such as rain gardens, bio-swales and permeable surface parking lots and roadways.

Leading Change in British Columbia

Projects will also focus on efforts to limit coastal erosion in proximity to major cities. In addition to adaptation applied to infrastructure, education campaigns will promote practical measures that homeowners can engage around their homes to help stop basement flooding.

“As a society, Canada must adapt to the new climate reality, and ensure that our cities, communities, infrastructure and buildings are resilient to extreme weather,” said Charles 3_Charles Brindamour_120pBrindamour, Chief Executive Officer of Intact Financial Corporation. “This is a multi-stakeholder endeavour and we are thankful to the governmental agencies, NGOs and consumers that will participate in these projects. Together we will foster adaptation initiatives that will allow Canadians to better adapt to our changing climate.”

Water Balance Model Express for Landowners:

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia has developed the Water Balance Model Express, an interactive online tool for homeowners to evaluate simple, landscape-based solutions to “slow, sink and spread” rainwater on their properties. Educational workshops on the tool and the science behind a watershed-based approach to rainwater management will be held for water resource and infrastructure staff in local governments in the province, as well as in the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec and the Prairies.

“Our climate is changing. We can expect wetter winters and longer and drier summers,” said Kim Stephens, Executive Director of PWSBC. “While climate change mitigation is about carbon, climate change adaptation is very much about water and this starts with each property in a watershed. Individual actions at the site level matter and they are cumulative.”

Kim Stephens_May2014_120pWhen natural areas are altered by human development, the slow-release, sponge-like functions of vegetation and soil are lost, which can severely upset the balance and flow of water, Stephens added. Through landscaping approaches, each property in a neighbourhood can capture, store and slowly release the right amount of rainwater into the ground to replenish aquifers, streams and rivers.

Sea Level Rise Collaborative:

The Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University and West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) have established a working group of Metro Vancouver and Burrard Inlet coastal municipalities called the Sea Level Rise Collaborative (SLRC).

SLRC is developing regional approaches, engaging a range of stakeholders, sharing learning and expertise, and pooling resources to plan pilot projects that will be proof-of-models for effective coastal adaptation.

Deborah-Harford_120p“A provincial study estimated a cost of $9.5 billion for adequate upgrading of coastal infrastructure in the Lower Mainland to meet the challenge of rising sea levels,” said Deborah Harford, Executive Director of ACT. “This seems to be an insurmountable burden for the already stretched resources of local governments. But there is a growing understanding that solutions may be found in collaborative, region-wide strategies where communities work together to achieve common objectives and outcomes.”

Projects in Other Provinces

Examples of projects that will get underway in other provinces in the coming months include:

  • Toronto and Region Conservation will naturalize concrete-lined Spring Creek in the Region of Peel. The project will remove much of the concrete, return the creek to a natural state, and reconnect it with the floodplain, all of which will dissipate stress on the channel during high flows. TRCA has made watercourse restoration a priority as many channels are approaching their engineered design life or, in some areas, are already past that point.
  • Green Calgary and Green Communities Canada will educate homeowners through the RAIN Home Visit Program on simple means to help flood-proof their homes, such as placing plastic covers over window-wells, ensuring that eaves troughs are kept clear and landscaping to direct water away from foundations.
  • Nature-Action Québec will convert an alleyway on the island of Montreal, removing part of the asphalt, planting trees and vegetation, and adding lattice stone pavement to reduce flooding due to stormwater or sewer backups. This project will also help reduce heat island-related problems.

“Preparing for climate change is non-negotiable if we are to avoid management by disaster scenarios. Extreme weather events will continue to increase in frequency and magnitude,” Feltmate said. “Adaptation is the only means to avoid financial and social costs that will otherwise be borne by all levels of government, industry and consumers.”

The Climate Change Adaptation Project – funded in full by a grant from Intact Foundation and launched in 2010 – focuses on how Canada can adapt to climate change. The 80 experts who contributed to the project come from diverse backgrounds including academia, law, banking, insurance, NGOs, Aboriginal communities, utilities and more. The full report can be found here: