Climate change and community planning

On December 7, 2012, SEAS provided a presentation to the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District Board regarding the need to take measures to adapt to climate change.

Our goal today is to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and of the need for precautionary, adaptation measures to protect citizens, property and natural values.

In a way it is the corollary to the slogan from the nineties, think globally, act locally – which means we need to take actions locally to help solve global environmental problems, but in this case we need to better understand what is happening globally so we can better protect ourselves locally.

The planet is very quickly warming up. The ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an increasing and alarming rate, and this is no wonder. The amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere is continuing to increase at a steady rate despite efforts to curb emissions. Weather patterns are changing quickly as shown by these graphs that illustrate the shifting distribution of summer temperature anomalies – indicating many more hotter days.

A quick overview of the impacts this year:

  • January – torrential rains in Brazil, wildfires in Chile
  • February – 650 perished from cold in Europe while warmest winter on record in the U.S.
  • —March – severe rain and flooding in S. America, while forest fire season began early in the U.S. along with severe tornados
  • —May/June – floods in Africa, floods in Brazil & China, record heat & drought in the U.S.
  • —July – half of the U.S. designated disaster areas
  • — August – over 2 million people displaced by floods in China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Record rainfall in U.S. Gulf Coast. Huge wildfires in Greece, Spain and Australia.
  • — October – Hurricane Sandy devastates New York and New Jersey, super-typhoon in Japan, massive flooding in Africa
  • — So far this year – many billions of dollars of damage to civil infrastructure

— Now bankers and insurers are telling governments to get serious about climate change.  With all these storms, insurance claims are skyrocketing. Just since 1980, claims have increased five times in North America, and this was before Hurricane Sandy, which most recent estimate has the cost pegged at $71-billion!

We are now witnessing these impacts in the Shuswap.  Science tells us that climate change will mean increased variability of climate, with more extreme weather events. Also the forecasts indicate that winters will be warmer and wetter with more rainfall at lower elevations, meaning an increased likelihood of drought in the summer. 200-year flood events could become far more frequent

Climate change impacts hit the Shuswap:

  • —  Insects ravage pine and spruce forests which lead to greater snow accumulation and faster run-off
  • —  Increase in the number and severity of forest fires
  • —  Increased frequency of floods and droughts
  • —  Massive storms cause flooding and erosion
  • —  This year, Mara Lake flood events make the national news and cause millions of dollars in damage

The damage that occurred at Sicamous Creek should be a wake-up call. With climate change, it is like the weather is on steroids.  A massive rainstorm on wet snow caused record run-off into a mountain stream. The culvert could not handle the flow, which blocked the water before it burst through the road leading to a flood event that scoured the sides of the creek. Smaller slides added more debris to the flood. The result caused an amazing amount of damage and now there is a court case over compensation. At Swansea Point the big question in mind was how could this happen again? Why didn’t government learn from the 1997 Hummingbird slide and take action to prevent future slides? In 1997, run-off during heavy rains from a poorly designed cutblock was channeled on to a slope that gave way and blocked Hummingbird Creek. When the dam burst the debris slide devastated the community.



Slide above Hummingbird Creek, 1997


This time there was too much water in both Mara and Hummingbird Creek and the culvert under the highway became blocked with debris. Then the highway was wiped out, along with roads and some structures in Swansea Point. Is the CSRD lobbying the provincial government to build the debris basin and bridge they promised in 2004? Or will you wait until after the next flood?

Ministers Falcon & Abbott Tour Hummingbird Creek Site – June 3, 2004
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon and Shuswap MLA George Abbott discuss debris flows at Hummingbird Creek, with Rhona Martin, chair of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District. Minister Falcon indicated that the province would be prepared to commit $4 million towards construction of a debris basin and bridge south of Sicamous, should a local referendum on operation and maintenance pass.

There are a number of measures the CSRD, along with all levels of government can take to better adapt to the impacts of climate change. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Protecting shorelines from development, to reduce risks from damages associated with floods, runoff and erosion, and also protect water quality.
  • —Improved stormwater management planning – using the principle of water balance and maintaining natural drainage patterns
  • Development planning to minimize vulnerability to flood or landslide risks
  • —Public education and community dialogue
  • —Determine where flood plains have high risks, improve drainage systems to handle higher flows and develop a warning system for local residents
  • —Identify and protect high elevation water sources for residential growth and wildfire protection
  • —Interface fire planning, hazard analysis and risk reduction activities
  • —On-going dialogue with all levels of government and the scientific community.

Shuswap Lake Flooding

The flooding we saw this year from to the extreme high water level in Shuswap Lake is likely in part due to climate change.  This graph shows how the level this year peaked far higher than the last ten years: This graph shows how there may be a trend for the lake to peak closer to July and for the high water to last longer, with sometimes two peaks: This graph illustrates how the lake has peaked above 348.7 m six times in 16 years, or about 1 out of 3 years: Clearly, we are now witnessing a trend towards higher water levels, and with this trend the question should be posed, “Are these existing regulations adequate?”

  • —348.3 metres above sea level is the 1 in 2 year high water mark, and 348.7m is the 1 in 5 year high water mark
  • —Any proposed development within 15 metres of 1 in 2 year high water mark in a floodplain area triggers an assessment
  • —Any proposed development within 30 metres of the 1 in 5 year high water mark in a riparian area (e.g. adjacent to the lake) triggers an assessment
  • —Development may be allowed proceed if a qualified professional prepares a positive assessment

Climate change can result in higher lake levels because with climate change, there will be:

  • —Higher temperatures which will create more evaporation thus causing greater precipitation
  • —More erratic and extreme weather patterns
  • —Increased chances for both floods and droughts
  • —A trend towards higher lake levels for longer periods of time due to heavy spring rains and larger snow packs

The B.C. Real Estate Association shares these concerns and in a recent newsletter, explained that most floodplain maps are now 25 years old, despite the fact that experts have indicated these should be updated every 10 years.  A meeting of stakeholders is planned for March 2013 to determine how these maps can be updated and made available to the public to improve flood protection in the province.

There are some specific areas of concern regarding development along the foreshore or in floodplains.  (Lee Creek and Blind Bay.)

These slides are of Blind Bay where there was a disgusting raw sewage stench near the water for weeks and no doubt the shore areas of the bay were unsafe for swimming. This is Sunset Cove Marina and Grill in Blind Bay. The flood reached to the floorboard joists even though it had been raised several years ago. Notice the septic tank lid at the water level. Their septic pump-out tanks were under water. Although the field was just above high water, it was likely flooded by the high water table, which flushed contaminants into the lake. The restaurant had to shut down for their peak season which no doubt had a significant financial impact. The septic pump out tanks and RV septic line connections at the Sunset Bay and Campground were below the high water. The old septic regulations did not allow connections that close to the water and new 2005 regulations do not appear to address that issue. Interior Health only responds to above ground leakage, and leaching into the lake is not within their jurisdiction. The Bayside Marina where the Blind Bay Rd was also flooded. The road closure resulted in postponing the Canada Day Celebration for a month. It is not clear what impact the flood had on the septic system of the marina and restaurant.

The Gateway resort includes property in the floodplain that floods regularly during high water.  Fortunately, this proposed Gateway Lakeview Resort master plan was rejected last year by this board: Unfortunately, the park model trailers already fill up one of the low areas and you can see how it flooded this year, forcing many of the owners to remove their trailers. The sewage system also was shut down, as it was under water. Further to the west is a parcel where Gateway had proposed 8 lots with retail services and upper floor dwelling units. This property was under water for nearly a month. No doubt you are all familiar with the controversial Cottonwoods property adjacent to the mouth of the world famous Adams River, home to the renowned salmon run. This Board truly made the right decision when it rejected this massive development plan in 2008. Here are some photos that show what various areas within the proposed development looked like this year during the flood. Many of the RV lots were under water: As were many of the lots where townhouses were proposed: A hole was dug where the proposed motel/condo unit was planned. It was filled with water.  Flooding was extensive throughout the property:

The sewage system was shut down as well, and many thousands of dollars were spent to pump the system out to minimize pollution of the lake.

Notice how close this park model trailer is to the lake in high water. What about the supposed 30 metre setback rule? Given the trend towards increased frequency of high, spring floodwaters in Shuswap Lake, we urge you to review community planning in areas subject to flooding.

  • The 348.7 m high water rule should be reviewed and likely changed to a higher elevation as this level now occurs 1 in 3 years.
  • —Certainly septic systems that often flood should no longer be consider safe. Inspections are needed for older septic systems in or close to the foreshore.  And the regulations need amendments to address septic systems impacted by flooding to protect lake water quality. (Note that the proposed South Shuswap OCP does address this issue.)
  • —What development, if any, should be allowed in floodplains?
  • —Caution is needed regarding any proposed development that is likely to flood despite any promises by the developers.
  • —Should we get ready for the next 1 in 200 year event (1894 levels)?

In conclusion, as the climate continues to warm up, the impacts are likely to increase as we are already seeing. The CSRD, along with all levels of government, need to take action now to reduce our community’s vulnerability to these impacts. After all, when disasters occur and infrastructure is damaged, governments and taxpayers end up responsible for the repairs. Money and time spent wisely now will lesson future costs.

Shuswap Lake graphs by Bernhard Kramer, Shuswap Lake Watch.