PREPARE FOR TOMORROW: Campbell River City Council has adopted its Sea Level Rise strategy

Editor’s Context:

The City of Campbell River on Vancouver Island is a seaside community. It has a history of storms and flooding in low-lying areas. With climate change, these will become more regular and more severe as higher seas push damaging storm surges further inland, weather events become more destructive, and heavier rainfall floods the Campbell River

The City of Campbell River is preparing to deal with increased flooding now, and in the future, as it adapts to a changing environment. The City’s Rising Seas strategy has received national recognition for its innovation. In this issue of Waterbucket News, the Partnership for Water Sustainability features an article contributed by Chris Osborne, the architect of the strategy.

“Chris Osborne is the City’s Acting Manager of Long Range Planning. He has an interesting background. He is a nuclear physicist who became a community planner. It is a unique blend. Clearly, his training and experience allowed him to bring a science-based approach to the planning realm, and bridge the two worlds. It is indeed a rare combination,” states Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director and Waterbucket News Editor.

Three Themes Emerged in an Interview

“This article is not about the technical analysis of sea level rise. That is a given. Rather, the focus is on the human side of the planning process because that is the most compelling. In an interview with Chris Osborne, three themes emerged: 1) local government collaboration; 2) public involvement in the decision process; and 3) youth outreach.

“All three themes are touched upon below, but the spotlight of the article is on #3. Youth participation is something that Chris Osborne is passionate about. For that reason, we asked him to elaborate on how he and his team implemented a City Council policy that “at least 10% of public input on City projects should be from youth”. As the reader will experience, the article that follows exudes his passion.

“His sidebar quotable quote about local government collaboration, for the purposes of peer-based learning, is especially relevant. The power of collaboration goes to the core of why the Partnership was created to deliver the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbiareleased in 2004.”

“Campbell River’s Rising Seas strategy is our roadmap for coping with a climate change impact. Throughout the planning process, youth outreach was a central pillar,” states Chris Osbourne, Acting Manager of Long Range Planning

Rising sea levels and more extreme storms create increasing hazards like flooding and erosion for seaside communities.

As seas continue to rise, the City of Campbell River is one of many coastal municipalities in British Columbia preparing to deal with increased flooding now, and in the future, as it adapts to a changing environment.

The Province of British Columbia advises communities to plan for one metre of sea level rise by the year 2100, and two metres by 2200.

Preparing for this is an on-going process, and a combination of solutions need to be considered, including re-evaluating land-use, structural and non-structural adaptation to the built environment and shoreline, and public education.

Given British Columbia’s diverse coastline and built environment, there is no “one size fits all” approach.

To Learn More:

Watch this video to learn more about the projected effects of sea level rise in Campbell River, and options available to address these risks in this coastal community.

Campbell River’s Rising Seas Strategy

“In 2017, a lone co-op student set out into the unforgiving July heat and walked the entire 14km of urbanized coastline of Campbell River over the course of four weeks.  She took a continuous series of photos of the back-of-beach and created a database to record everything she saw.  Thus began the City’s Rising Seas project,” states Chris Osborne, Acting Manager of Long Range Planning.

“Fast forward two-and-a-half years and a significant amount of detailed professional hydrological modelling, and Campbell River City Council has adopted its Sea Level Rise strategy.  During that time we moved through a continuum of public consultation that started with education and finished with working groups choosing between competing options according to their values.

“The strategy is our roadmap for coping with a climate change impact that will profoundly affect the City’s residents, businesses, asset management plan, and capital works projects.

“Sea Level Rise is a relatively slow-moving phenomenon and will go largely unnoticed most of the time.  Under calm conditions, even 1m of global sea level rise is unlikely to have profound consequences in Campbell River.  However, during a storm event, 1m of global sea level rise becomes a serious danger for those few critical hours or minutes around high tide.

“For these incredibly brief moments the factors governing local sea conditions conspire to create the “worst case scenario” that is shown on our flood maps.  All the calm days far away from king tides count for nothing.   It only needs happen once, in order for millions of dollars of damage to occur and lives and livelihoods to be disrupted.

“As global sea levels continue their inexorable upwards march, damaging events will become more frequent until at some point we will witness an event that surpasses all others in living memory.  This could happen this year or in 50 years, but it will happen.

“This future is locked-in.  In a geological blink-of-an-eye, humans have initiated a chemical reaction releasing literally millions of years’ worth of stored sunlight, and deposited its by-products in the delicately-balanced atmosphere.  The cause provided, it remains only for physics to deliver the effect.”

Quotable Quote – Public consultation moved from education to involving the public in the ranking of options:

“Once the engineers and specialists have produced a shortlist of the technically-feasible options with pros and cons, it’s over to the public. Choosing which options are best for Campbell River is a decision based on community values.”

Those who did the least to cause climate change will bear its greatest burdens

“The youth of Campbell River cannot be held responsible for any of this.  Yet it is they who will live longest with the ever-worsening effects, and their unborn successor generations yet more so.  For this reason we thought any discussion on sea level rise probably ought to include these youths.  Backed by a Council policy that states that at least 10% of public input on City projects should be from youth we set out to do just that.

“Our ‘discussion’, in this case, was a series of events held over the course of nearly two years, aimed at various levels of youth, First Nations, technical stakeholders, and the wider public.  Throughout this process, youth outreach was a central pillar.

“The City’s Youth Action Committee was involved at several points.  Our co-op students acquired terrain models and went into the local grade schools, where they used hairdryers and ice cubes to model glacial melt.  The subsequent water level in the models rose to illustrate to the students how rising seas threaten settlements and swamp productive farmland.

“Student representatives were specifically invited to public consultation events.  Staff delivered detailed presentations to school, college and university students; trying to build awareness and curiosity in the bright minds of the future.

“The values and opinions of youth were then woven into the strategy, with its focus on solutions that promote ecological and human wellbeing, even if these represented a trade-off in terms of cost or flood protection efficacy.  This process legitimizes the strategy, lending it moral and democratic credibility.”

The CIty’s co-op students acquired terrain models and went into the local grade schools, where they used hairdryers and ice cubes to model glacial melt.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear – Taoist proverb

“At the start of this project Campbell River looked to BC’s sea level rise leaders for education and inspiration. In 2017 Qualicum Beach, Surrey and Vancouver had all made significant progress towards their sea level rise strategies and connected with their public in creative and colourful ways.

“City staff contacted these leaders in the early stages of our project and even traveled to Qualicum Beach and Vancouver to participate in local public consultation events – contributing assistance while learning through observation, and debriefing with the host staff afterwards.

“We took opportunities to attend legal and professional training events with relevance to sea level rise and start road-testing some of our ideas with peers and experts.

“As the project evolved,City staff and our consultants developed our own specific Campbell River analyses and public consultation materials and events, often developing initial designs from other places and then adapting for our local context.  We started to generate original material.

“We continued to showcase our efforts in a variety of forums, watching our own narrative evolve increasingly into the past tense. Learning became doing, and a few battle scars were won.  We fielded more questions and noticed people taking notes of our presentation slides.  Staff began to be approached with questions from municipalities just starting their sea level rise voyages.

“When we started, help and knowledge was given to us freely and generously by the leaders of the day.  Finding ourselves two years later in a leading position we have sought to continue that philosophy and be similarly forthcoming with help and guidance to anyone who needs it.

“It is in the collective interest for local governments to share and collaborate and help one another – it makes the public sector more efficient.  Although Sea Level Rise manifests itself differently in every geographic location, no coastal community in BC should feel alone in planning for its impacts.”

Quotable Quote – Local governments are sharing and learning from each other:

“We seek to repay the help and guidance given to us in our early days by leaders such as Qualicum Beach and Surrey, by providing similar mentorship to other local governments starting their own Sea Level Rise journeys.”