Dealing with Climate Uncertainty and Managing Risk: “The disconnect in thought between retirement planning and water management is a conundrum,” observed Metro Vancouver’s Robert Hicks in 2005

Note to Reader:

In November 2007, the Fraser Basin Council hosted a workshop in Vancouver on adaptive decision-making, water management and climate change.  The workshop explored links between climate change adaptation strategies and decision-making processes in the Fraser Basin.

The workshop featured a panel session comprising four speakers representing diverse fields of thought. The panel included Kim Stephens.  He provided a water resource practitioner’s perspective. At that time he was the Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia Kim Stephens is now the Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

His panel presentation was developed in consultation with Robert Hicks, a Senior Engineer with Metro Vancouver.

Preparing for Climate Change in the Fraser Basin: How Can Our Water Management Systems Adapt?

The panel was challenged to respond to a hypothetical climate change / water crisis scenario set in 2030. Kim Stephens opened his presentation by stating that the real issues are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how we deal with the first and manage the latter.  He turned the question into a statement because “I wanted the audience to appreciate that the issues are not overwhelming. We just apply what we know and temper it with common-sense,” he said.

Climate Change is a Variable

“Climate change is not the driver; rather, it is a variable. Furthermore, climate change is only one factor to consider when we talk about sustainable infrastructure,” stated Kim Stephens.

“The key is to focus on what you want to do. Because many factors are in play, the objective is to build in resiliency to address risk. We have to know where we want to  go. Then we can figure out the steps to get there. To adapt water supply systems, the question boils down to: how much water do we need, and how can we make efficient use of what is available?”

To answer the question posed to the panel, Stephens then drew on his experience in working with Robert Hicks of Metro Vancouver and Wenda Mason of the former Land & Water BC to co-develop the curriculum and learning outcomes for the 2005 Penticton Water IN = Water OUT Workshop.

2005 Penticton Workshop:
“Achieving Water Balance”

“This is a subject matter in which we have invested considerable time to develop a philosophy and an approach,” stated Kim Stephens.

“In 2005, the Penticton full-day technical transfer session provided us with opportunity to think hard, think through our understanding of the water balance, and connect the dots  between water resource planning, climate variability and risk management.”

“At the workshop, we explored the tools and techniques available through demand-side management; and gave participants ‘hands-on’ planning practice to demonstrate how to achieve a water balance without relying on new sources and infrastructure.”

Long-Term Visions versus Short-Term Realities

Kim Stephens used a slide  created by Robert Hicks  to provide what he called a ‘point of departure’ for the Fraser Basin audience. “Retirement planning is something that most people understand and do intuitively,” he commented, “So why is it that when it comes to community and/or resource planning, we are seemingly incapable of overcoming the gap between long-term and short-term thinking?”

Stephens noted that the objectives for water systems and infrastructure planning are similar to those for retirement planning, namely:

  • Maximize return on investment
  • Minimize risk
  • Recognize financial limits (savings and withdrawals)

Yet we struggle to make long-term decisions related to dealing with uncertainty and managing risk when it comes to sustaining the very infrastructure that our communities depend upon for life support,” summarized Stephens, “Robert Hicks of Metro Vancouver characterizes the disconnect in thought between retirement planning and water management as a conundrum.” (A conundrum is defined as a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.)

To Learn More:

To read the complete story about the panel presentation by Kim Stephens, follow this link to download a PDF copy of Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk: How We Can Adapt our Water Management Systems

To download a copy of this PowerPoint slides, click here.