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British Columbia Context

WATCH THE VIDEO / Water and a Changing Climate / Drought Affects Us All: “When you think about it, the earth is a closed-loop system. New water is not being created. What changes is the seasonal distribution. Extreme droughts followed by extreme floods show just how unbalanced the seasonal water cycle is now,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (July 2021)


“A long career provides perspective. In my five decades as water resource planner and engineer, there are three years that really stand out in British Columbia when the topic is water conservation. After what in respect was a benign half-century, 1987 was BC’s first wake up call. The drought was unprecedented in living memory. But it was 2003 that truly was what we call ‘the teachable year.’ This really got the attention of British Columbians that the climate was indeed changing. In 2015, the West Coast of North America crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. And it has happened faster than anyone expected,” stated Kim Stephens.

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DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. Over time, the safety factor has been shrinking (July 2021)


As Metro Vancouver headed into Day 43 of drought, officials asked residents to keep the six-week-long lack of precipitation in mind when they think about watering their lawn or washing their car. “We’re keeping a close eye on things. We need people to be really mindful about how they are using the water that is available. We’re certainly not in a position where we’ve got surplus water and people can do whatever they want,” stated Marilyn Towill, Metro Vancouver General Manager of Water Services.

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FLOODS AFFECT SOME OF US. DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: Have you considered why climate change is a variable, not a driver? “The real issues are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how we deal with the first and manage the latter,” stated Robert Hicks, Metro Vancouver Senior Engineer, at the Achieving Water Balance Workshop which was the launch event for the Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative (April 2005)


The idea for the deceptively simple Water OUT = Water In equation originated with Robert Hicks. He believed it would be an effective visual means to explain complexity to a continuum of audiences, ranging from technical to elected. “How do you solve the OUT = IN equation when both sides are variable? After all, it is mathematically not possible to solve for two or more unknowns when one has a single equation. The inherent variability creates uncertainty which in turn creates risk,” stated Robert Hicks.

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FLASHBACK TO 2010: “The ‘From Rain from Resource Workshop’ highlighted the importance of rainwater management to climate change adaptation and showcased examples from other areas that could be applied to the Okanagan,” stated Anna Warwick Sears, Executive Director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board


“Managing stormwater effectively will be a critical climate change adaptation tool. A key component of managing for storms is redesigning our approach to handling the more frequent, lighter rainfall events. Rainwater management keeps water on-site, improving water quality by reducing runoff pollution, allowing the rain to infiltrate and recharge aquifers, and establishing ways to harvest water for other uses. Rainwater management complements management of larger storm events, and reduces infrastructure requirements overall,” stated Anna Warwick Sears.

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FLASHBACK TO 2008 / LIVING WATER SMART: “British Columbia is making the rules serve the goals. Adapting to climate change and reducing the impact on the environment will be conditions of receiving provincial infrastructure funding,” foreshadowed the Province’s Catriona Weidman at Seminar 1 in the inaugural Comox Valley Learning Lunch Series for peer-based education


“We all work with rules. We don’t want to argue about the rules. What we really want to do is change some of the rules to create the greener, more sustainable communities that people would like. The provincial government is using infrastructure funding to encourage a ‘new business as usual’ – one results in the right type of projects – rather than taking a stick approach. The Province is leveraging its grants programs to influence changes on the ground. British Columbia is in transition,” stated Catriona Weidman.

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Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia: “Only after wading into the executive summary did one realize it was one of the more alarming documents commissioned by this or any other B.C. government,” wrote Vaughan Palmer, Vancouver Sun columnist (July 2019)


“At first glance the report posted quietly on the provincial government website this week resembled a typical midsummer offering. Pretty pictures on the cover. The word ‘preliminary’ in the title. Not even the courtesy of a media release to flag its arrival. All seemingly calculated to be overlooked in the July political doldrums,” wrote Vaughan Palmer. “More than 400 pages, the report evaluates the risks to B.C. over the next 30 years of 15 specific climate-change-driven events, each weighed on a sliding scale of consequences from ‘low’ to ‘catastrophic’.”

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SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME: “With each new generation, the expectation of various ecological conditions shifts. The result is that standards are lowered almost imperceptibly,” stated Dr. Daniel Pauly, professor and project leader, Sea Around Us Project, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia


“We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there. If you generalize this, something like this happens,” explains Daniel Pauly. An understanding of Daniel Pauly’s “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” is a foundation piece for implementing restorative development, reconnecting hydrology and ecology, and bending the curve to restore stream systems. The goal of shifting to an ecologically functioning and resilient baseline will ultimately depend on the nature of change to standards of practice.

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BUILDING CLIMATE RESILIENCE IN THE OKANAGAN: “The goal of the Homeowner’s Resource Guide is to raise awareness and identify key actions homeowners can take to protect properties from flood, drought, fire, and invasive species,” states Eva Antonijevic, lead author (May 2019)


“Understanding how wildfires travel onto private property helps homeowners understand how to reduce risks of property damage. Reducing fire risk requires a team approach and communities need to work together–neighbour to neighbour,” states Eva Antonijevic. “The guide summarizes climate challenges, and introduces solutions to support Okanagan homeowners in their efforts to protect and enhance their real estate investment from the ongoing challenges of climate change.”

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LEARNING FROM THE BURNING: “We keep talking about adaptation in service of resilience; but more than that we need to adapt now for what is to come,” stated Bob Sandford, Canada’s Winston Churchill of Water


“The foundation of my work is science. It seems to me that the commandments of science can be reduced to two: tell the truth and stand up for all humanity and for the planet,” says Bob Sandford. “Good science is not just the sharing of knowledge about the world, it is a candle we light when we want to see and be warmed by the truth. There has probably never been a time in history when making what science is telling us understandable to a vastly diverse and often preoccupied public has been more important.”

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FIRE WEATHER SEVERITY: ‘Abnormally dry’ conditions across Pacific Northwest could spell long wildfire season for British Columbia (May 2019)


“The signs of climate change are all around us. Earth mother’s lifeblood (i.e. water) is becoming sparse in the Pacific Northwest, and some Indigenous Elders say this is happening because humans are not showing respect to water,” said Michael Blackstock. “Water withdraws itself from the disrespectful. Water is transforming from ice, to sea and river water, and then to traversing atmospheric rivers. Water was sleeping as ice, but now it is moving rapidly and unpredictably around our planet. Some places are deluged, while others lay tongue-parched.”

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