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British Columbia Context

SCIENCE OF FORESTS AND FLOODS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “A forest’s influence on flooding stems from the many random or ‘chancy’ features in a watershed,” stated UBC forestry professor Younes Alila in calling for a rethink of forestry practices and policy


“If we continue to mischaracterize (extremes), and if we continue to manage the forest and disturbance levels as if we were doing fine, we’re going to take the system further and further out of anything that is protective,” stated Dr. Younes Alila. And as climate extremes become more frequent and severe, he says, assessing the risks incorrectly could lead to greater damages and losses of life. He says frequency is the “lost dimension” in B.C. forest hydrology. It’s crucial to consider frequency because dikes and bridges can fail when battered by peak flows that are happening more often.

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CONTEXT AND HISTORY DO MATTER: “We have had two decades to prepare for the obvious and the inevitable. 2003 was the first of a series of ‘teachable years’, with the full onslaught of a changing climate hitting hard as of 2015,” stated the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC’s Kim Stephens (September 2023)


“Mother Nature has an amazing sense of timing. On the 20th anniversary of the evacuation of 27,000 people from Kelowna due to forest fires, history repeated itself in August in the Kelowna region, in particular West Kelowna. We have had two decades to prepare for the obvious and the inevitable. Some of us have spent our careers working on solutions to watershed, water and food security issues and challenges. Climate change is accelerating. There is no time to re-invent the wheel, fiddle, or go down cul-de-sacs. Understand how the past informs the future and build on that experience,” stated Kim Stephens.

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THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “As 2022 begins, British Columbia is still reeling from a roller-coaster year of relentless fires, droughts and floods. We learned, without a doubt, that the climate crisis is a water crisis,” stated the University of Victoria’s Oliver Brandes and Rosie Simms in an Op-Ed published by the Vancouver Sun (January 2022)


“For many, these recent wild water lurches seemed to come out of nowhere. And that is the issue: It really isn’t unexpected. It may just be happening faster than many of us imagined. But a bleak future of worsening impacts is not inevitable. We can still choose a different path forward. The B.C. government has an opportunity to lead the world in taking watershed security seriously and building a plan to help us get to a prosperous tomorrow, while starting the work today. This is the best hedge against an increasingly uncertain future,” stated Oliver Brandes.

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THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “There’s that pit in your stomach where you’re thinking, ‘Is this the moment where I get to say I told you so?’ ” said Tamsin Lyle, an engineer and one of several experts who had warned of flood risks in the Lower Mainland, when she was interviewed on the Fifth Estate (November 2021)


Tamsin Lyle wrote a report for the provincial government in May 2021. In it, she stated that “the current model for flood risk governance in B.C. is broken.” Lyle said she was asked by senior bureaucrats to “tone down the language.” But she declined. “One of my proudest moments is that I kept that line in,” she said. “I think the province from about 20 years ago has a lot to answer for in terms of downloading the responsibility from the province – who had the better capacity to look at the problem at scale – to local governments who don’t have the capacity and don’t have the expertise.”

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THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “Ecology is not rocket science. It’s way more complicated. This is not to downplay the difficulty of rocket science, but to point out the incredible complexity of natural systems where all the variables aren’t known and are often connected to and influence one another,” stated Armel Castellan, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada (December 2021)


“Recent flooding in southwest B.C. (in mid-November 2021) was connected to the cumulative amount of rain falling in a short period of time. It was also linked to several record-breaking wildfire seasons which reduced tree cover on mountainsides and the vegetation that would normally have helped to absorb and slow water running into streams and rivers. The interconnectedness this year also included the almost unfathomable summer heat dome which set off a chain reaction — early drought, drier forests, and wildfires starting four to five weeks earlier than usual,” explained Armel Castellan.

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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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‘HISTORIC, DANGEROUS, PROLONGED AND UNPRECEDENTED’ HEAT WAVE SWELLS OVER PACIFIC NORTHWEST AND BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Perhaps the most intense heatwave for our region since the late 19th century – or at least close to it – is beginning to take shape,” reported the United States National Weather Service in the early morning on Saturday, June 26, 2021


As of 2015, we clearly crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydrometeorological regime in Western North America. Changes in the global hydrologic cycle have huge implications for every region of the world. “It’s unprecedented,” said Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, when he described the “dome of heat” that descended on British Columbia in June 2021. “It’s never happened this early in the season. Temperatures are breaking all-time highs in south coast locations in June.”

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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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