Liveblogging the UBC Resilience Symposium: Uncertain Water Supplies

Drought-stricken farmland in Australia, between Melbourne and Sydney. Thanks to Beleobus on Flickr for the great Creative Commons photo.

Today, PlanningPool is coming to you live from the Symposium on Resilience at the University of British Columbia, where we just presented a lively panel discussion about Digital Media. (Our slides are online here.) Thanks to Karen Quinn Fung and Frances Bula for participating in the discussion!

An interdisciplinary panel of graduate students and professionals are currently discussing the critical planning issue of “Uncertain Water Supplies: Increasing the resiliency of development to water crises”. Planning graduate student Asrai Ord introduced the panel with the observation that a majority of Canadians believe in the “myth of abundance.” Unfortunately, frequent claims that Canada does not have to worry about the availability of freshwater amount to wishful thinking. Water conservation is a critical planning issue in Canada as it is worldwide.

Debra Hartford, the Executive Director of the Simon Fraser University Adaptation to Climate Change Team pointed out that global warming has diverse and unpredictable effects on water cycles around the world, from flooding in the UK to severe droughts in Australia. In Canada, aging infrastructure increases urban vulnerability to extreme weather. To build resilience into those systems, efforts to replace this infrastructure need to take into account climate change, and the likelihood that Canada will likely become a destination for climate refugees. She concluded by suggesting five key principles for developing adaptation policy that “speak the language of policymakers”:

  • Intergovernmental collaboration
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Assessment of current & future risk
  • Acting strategically
  • Mainstreaming (build in resilience along with other initiatives)

Insight from research into initiatives in water-stressed California was then offered by Nancy Pepper, a graduate student in planning. That state has recently introduced Water Adequacy laws requiring that developers building projects of a certain size (such as 500 residential units) must identify that an adequate water supply to serve their development for at least 20 years. While recognizing the significance of this legislation, Nancy points out that a 20-year time frame is still shorter than the life of a typical building, especially since 30-year mortgages are the norm for homebuyers.

Kim Stephens, an engineer and “on-the-ground implementer” of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for BC has experience of climate change that centres around floods and droughts. He has used the fundamental Water Balance equation of “water out = water in” to help communities understand the engineering challenges inherent in water management. In working with stakeholders, he recommends caution when using value-laden terms, which can seem antagonistic. One of the best BC-based examples he has seen of grassroots community mobilization for water system restoration is the Bower Creek Initiative, is a citizen-driven 100-year vision on Vancouver Island.

The water supply in Canada's Okanagan Valley is limited, and critical to the economic success of local vineyards. Thanks to Kentrosaurus for the great Creative Commons photo!

Kirsten Harma from UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability rounded out the panel by introducing her Masters research about water management in the Okanagan Basin. This semi-arid region has a closed system and high evaporation rates, yet water is very important to its economy of fruit orchards and wineries. To promote sustainable water planning in the region, she stressed the importance of  recognizing the impact of land use, including the removal of trees, on local water systems. In carrying out her research, she has learned that while models are very useful tools, they merely support decisions that are most effectively made in coordination with stakeholders.

Thanks very much to all the dedicated organizers of the Symposium on Resilience whose efforts made possible this kind of interdisciplinary sharing of information and experience about the critical planning issues of our time!

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One Response to “Liveblogging the UBC Resilience Symposium: Uncertain Water Supplies”

  1. » Liveblogging from the UBC Resilience Symposium: Uncertain Water Supplies ACT: Adaptation to Climate Change Team said:

    Mar 24, 10 at 3:20 pm

    [...] Check out the full post here. [...]