Climate Change

Climate Change, Community, and a Coastal City

In May 2019, I began my role as the Climate Change Adaptation Intern at ACAP Saint John. This internship was the final milestone required to complete the Masters of Climate Change (MCC) program from University of Waterloo. What is the Masters of Climate Change? It’s a unique program that focuses on creating an interdisciplinary group of climate change specialists! Individuals with different backgrounds and interests were brought together to learn and discuss the challenges created by Earth’s changing climate. Throughout the MCC program, our discussions were focused on the success of adaptation and mitigation How do we adapt to these climate impacts? How can we prepare our society for predicted changes? After several months of course work (which felt like years!), the internship milestone is intended to apply the research and problem-solving skills in a real-world setting.

Good morning Saint John!

Good morning Saint John!

During the 2019 winter term, I began applying for an internship position where I could apply this new education. I was eager to apply out of Ontario and hopeful that this could be an opportunity for me to explore a new part of Canada. Sure enough, it has been! I moved to Saint John, New Brunswick at the start of May and have been amazed by the beauty of the coastline, the old growth Acadian forests and the contrast of the industrial sector. Yet the real reason I came to New Brunswick was not to hike and admire the sights but rather to help create a plan that will effectively prepare Saint John for climate change. The floods of 2018 and 2019 have began an on-going discussion (throughout all of Canada) that places emphasis on the severity of climate change. What is happening to our homes? What is happening to our ecosystem? With spring floods, localized rainfall flooding in low lying areas as well as increasing summer temperatures, the impacts of climate change are obvious. It has never been so important to provide solutions that can combat the impacts of extreme weather.

Saint John River Flood, 2019

Saint John River Flood, 2019

In 2017, ACAP Saint John began working to develop a Climate Adaptation Plan for the city. Like many other Canadian cities, this plan is intended to protect and reduce the impacts of climate change on valued infrastructure and vulnerable groups. Working alongside the climate change coordinator, Bailey Brogan, I was appointed to aid in the completion of the adaptation plan and engage in public events. A portion of the summer has been developing a list of recommended actions for the city to take based on the identified vulnerabilities and risks in Saint John. As well, the adaptation work involved constructing a public rain garden in Queen Square West and engaging residents at the Area 506 festival. The community response was thankful for the climate action being taken by ACAP! In the future, it is important that these public conversations continue with a positive focus on the work being done in the city.

Rain Garden in Queen Square West, August 2019.

Rain Garden in Queen Square West, August 2019.

Beyond the climate change planning process, I am grateful to have participated with the ACAP team at public events and for various field work activities. This community-based organization has a positive environmental influence in Saint John, and I am hopeful that the adaptation actions will be taken to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. This plan is an opportunity for Saint John to step forward and transform towards a healthier, safer and climate resilient community!

Jamylynn McDonald

Protect, Accommodate, Retreat

The 2019 flood: the second major flood event in New Brunswick in the past year, the third in the past 11 years. As of May 2019, approximately 639 households have registered with the Red Cross for flood relief support. The response from last year’s “once in a century flood” was major, individuals and communities came together to help one another through this natural disaster. People were comforted by the thought that this probably wouldn’t happen again for another ten years, but the reality is, as the climate changes these events will become a more common occurrence. After two floods in a row, people are already feeling the fatigue that recurring events can bring. When recovering from back to back flooding events many people want to know, what can they change so that this doesn’t happen to them again?

Essentially there are three options that people living in flood prone areas can choose to adapt: protect, accommodate or retreat. With each option, comes its own set of costs and challenges. Whichever option you choose (or combination of options) will be the one that makes the most sense with your physical location, available resources and time.

(Natural Resources Canada, 2016)

(Natural Resources Canada, 2016)

Protect: This method includes setting up an either temporary or permanent structure between a waterway and infrastructure that will hold back flood water. While sandbagging can be an effective flood protection measure, it is time consuming and physically demanding work. Many volunteers made themselves available to help sandbagging in 2018 and 2019, and the military provided assistance in 2019. After floodwaters recede, homeowners are then left with wet, heavy and potentially contaminated sandbags that need to be disposed of in the landfill.

Sandbags holding back floodwater (Eastern Ontario Network, 2018)

Sandbags holding back floodwater (Eastern Ontario Network, 2018)

Other temporary protection devices include “Water Gates,” Water Inflated Property Protectors and interlocking flood barriers. These structures are reusable and can be easy to install. Investing in alternative kinds of flood barriers may save time and reduce the amount of manpower needed for protection.

Photo: Interlocking flood barriers, (Design 1st, 2018).

Photo: Interlocking flood barriers, (Design 1st, 2018).

Other ways to protect your home from flooding is to move appliances and furniture to upper floors of your home, install a sump pump, and seal and cracks in your foundation or gaps around basement windows. Follow this link for more resources about flood preparedness.

Accommodate: The method requires altering infrastructure to be more resilient to flooding. This includes jacking up houses, adding basements or height to foundations, building homes on stilts, raising road levels (like Ragged Point Road, Saint John), redesigning basements to be able to withstand flooding, or restoring wetland habitat. If you qualify for Disaster Financial Assistance you may use up to 15% of the allocated funds for mitigation of flooding on your property.

Flood proofing is especially important if you use petroleum products for home heating or cooking. Ensuring vents and fill pipes for aboveground and underground storage tanks are above the 1 in 100 year flood line will avoid contaminating flood waters and causing further post-flood cleanup headaches. The province of New Brunswick has provided a Petroleum Product Storage Tank System Flood Protection Checklist to guide homeowners with home heating oil or propane tanks.

Retreat: Moving infrastructure away from risk zones. This method can be very costly, but will ensure that you will likely not be impacted by future flood events. Currently if 80% of the value of your home has been damaged by flooding, the Province of New Brunswick will buy out a home or property (Seventy-eight properties were bought out after the 2018 flood). Recently, the Government of New Brunswick bought three properties on Darlings Island and sold the homes with the requirement that they are moved out of the flood zone.  Buyouts were also used in 2012 in Perth Andover after devastating flooding.

A fourth option for dealing with flooding is to avoid building in flood risk areas altogether. For this option to be successful, action will need to be taken at a policy level. Guidelines for floodplain management and updating flood hazard mapping will help governments make informed decisions when allowing new development. Individuals can keep this in mind as well when choosing where to build or if considering buying a new home that is within the flood zone. There are resources available on the GeoNB website that shows the 1973 and 2008 flood zones - this can be used as a guide for the public when searching for a new home or land.

We have learned many lessons over the past year and will continue to learn from this flood. As climate change progresses, floods in New Brunswick will become more common, so considering your options to protect, accommodate, or retreat can help to increase our resiliency to flooding events in the future.

Have you tried any methods to adapt to flooding? Leave us a comment or contact office@acapsj.org to share your story.

Kennebecasis Drive, 2019.

Kennebecasis Drive, 2019.

Sources:

Admin, E. (2018). “New Brunswick flooding to continue for ‘at least’ 5 days, state of emergency not ruled out” Eastern Ontario Network Television.

http://easternontarionetwork.com/2018/05/05/new-brunswick-flooding-to-continue-for-at-least-5-days-state-of-emergency-not-ruled-out/

CBC Information Morning Fredericton (2019). “Province offers financial aid to owners of flood-damaged buildings. CBC News New Brunswick.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/jeff-carr-cottage-owners-flood-1.5121368

Campbell, A. (2012). “N.B. to spend up to $8M to relocate Perth Andover homes.” CTV News Atlantic.  https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/n-b-to-spend-up-to-8m-to-relocate-perth-andover-homes-1.980575

Design 1st (2018). 5 New Flood Prevention Products.  https://www.design1st.com/5-innovative-flood-prevention-products-replace-sandbags/

Lemmen, D.S., Warren, F.J., James, T.S. and Mercer Clarke, C.S.L. editors (2016). Canada’s Marine Coasts in a Changing Climate; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON, 274p. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/files/pdf/NRCAN_fullBook%20%20accessible.pdf

New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (NB EMO) (2019). Disaster Financial Assistance Frequently Asked Questions. Government of New Brunswick. https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/pa-ap/pdf/Report_Damages/dfa_faq.pdf

NB EMO (2019). 2019 Freshet by the Numbers. Government of New Brunswick. https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/pa-ap/River_Watch/pdf/2019_freshet-e.pdf

New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government (2016). Petroleum Product Storage Tank System Flood Protection Guidance Checklist. Government of New Brunswick. https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/env/pdf/Flooding-Inondations/PetroleumProductStorageTankSystemFloodProtectionGuidance.pdf

Service New Brunswick (2019). GeoNB Map Viewer. Government of New Brunswick. http://www.snb.ca/geonb1/e/index-E.asp

Smith, C. (2019) “Province clears houses from Nauwigewauk flood zone”. CBC News New Brunswick.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/flooding-flood-freshet-spring-darlings-island-uber-rob-1.5005203

A Maritime NGO in Poland

“Call me Isaiah,” the man from Uganda said. A laugh broke out and what had been a faint glint in his eye turned to a roaring smile as we swapped stories of our homelands. 

“You have all that snow and you truck it away? All that freshwater, such a waste,” he says as I explain how our Spring floods can impact farmers and residents along the Wolastoq and in our cities. “You are so blessed,” he tells me, “and it must cost so much and use so much fuel, to discard what many of us need.” 

He is right, yet we all have unique challenges to share, just as one person’s curse is another’s blessing. One thought that enters my head is undeniable in its resolution: it is through our gathering and acknowledging of these perspectives that advances will be made, and that meaningful transformation will take place.

Therein lies the power of a gathering such as the United Nations, for despite the sea of acronyms, the rigid diplomatic protocols, and the overwhelming size of the institutions within it, where else can you have these interactions, and discuss them with requisite intelligence and wit while a thousand other conversations like it take place all around you. This was my experience in Katowice, Poland this past week, as I joined ten thousand others from across the planet for COP24, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing a few of my stories and thoughts from my role as Observer and Delegate at this global Conference of the Parties, how the decisions made there will impact New Brunswick, and what we can all do to forge a dialogue of understanding, much as the one described above between yours truly and my new friend from Uganda. 

“I would love to visit Canada some day, it sounds beautiful,” my friend says, “you have so much space, it must be something.”

With a final roar of laughter he proclaims, “Just maybe not when there is all that snow!”

Planning for Sea Level Rise in Saint John

Recently ACAP Saint John worked with the New Brunswick Environmental Network to host a Sea Level Rise Workshop at the Saint John Free Public Library. The workshop’s goals were to educate the public on sea level rise concepts, identify areas and infrastructure that may be at risk, and to discuss tools and approaches for adapting to the effects of climate change.

Flood risk maps were shown to participants and depicted water levels at four different stages:

  • Higher High Water Large Tide (HHWLT) (4.6 m) represents the impact of storm surge on higher tides associated with the new moon or full moon cycles. This figure is determined by the average large tide over a 19 year period.

  • HHWLT + 1 m (5.6 m) which depicts sea level rise of 1 m, the approximate height predicted to occur by 2100.

  • HHWLT + 2 m (6.6 m) Saxby Gale Type Event. The Saxby Gale was a hurricane that made landfall during a perigean (extreme high) tide in 1869 and resulted in a storm surge of approximately 1.7-2.1 m high, the highest ever recorded in the Bay of Fundy.

  • 1 in 100 year storm surge in 2100 (6.8 m).  Flooding scenarios are generally modeled for return periods (the average time between events) ranging from and annual event to a one in 100-year event. For example, a 100-year event is predicted to have a one in 100 (1%) chance of occurring in any given year.

Participants were able to visualize what areas may be at risk to sea level rise and discussed some actions that could be taken to prevent damage to coastal assets.

Workshop participants discuss sea level rise in Saint John.

Workshop participants discuss sea level rise in Saint John.

Most coastal infrastructure is built to withstand storms and flood events based on a specific return period (i.e. 1 in 100 year storm). Return periods are calculated based on current weather, and does not include changes in future climate; therefore, in the future a 1 in 100 year event could become a 1 in 50 year event due to increased severity and frequency of storms. To further illustrate this, consider that a 1 in 100 year storm (1% probability) today could create a storm surge of 5.5 m (0.9 m above the current HHWLT). By 2050, this same storm surge level will be a 1 in 2 year event (50% probability) and in 2100 the annual storm surge event is projected exceed the current 1 in 100 year event by 0.8 m. When infrastructure is designed to withstand today’s 1 in 100 year events, it may only do the bare minimum by 2100. Will these predictions be factored into building planning and design? How do we accommodate this moving target?

Now that we have identified what areas may be at risk, we can start to think about adaptation. By making changes to how and where we build, we can be better prepared for climate change impacts.

Adaptation to sea level rise and coastal erosion can be achieved in three ways: protection, accommodation and retreat/avoidance. Examples include:

  • Protection: hard/soft armouring beaches and coastal infrastructure, dykes, sea walls, restoring beaches/coastal wetlands, reinstating vegetation.

  • Accommodation: flood proofing buildings, changing building design guidelines, protection of coastal wetlands and restricting use in coastal areas.

  • Retreat/Avoidance: either abandoning or relocating infrastructure out of low lying areas restricting development in low lying areas.

Depending on the risks and costs associated with each strategy, no single approach can be applied to every situation. A combination of adaptation strategies would provide a more holistic approach to dealing with sea level rise.

Feedback from the workshop participants on the community needs included:

  1. Better access to local information on climate change, sea level rise, etc.

  2. More public consultation on new developments, especially in at risk areas.

  3. Motivated and committed elected officials that will make adaptation a priority.

The Province of New Brunswick is developing flood risk maps that will depict coastal and inland flooding risks. These will be available to the public within the next few years. Community climate change adaptation planning is in the works at ACAP, along with Asset Management and Resilience studies that are being conducted by the City of Saint John. Community consultation on these projects will continue throughout the fall, including a Resilient Community Workshop which will take place on September 13. 

If you have any questions about ACAP's climate adaptation work or are interested in participating in upcoming community consultation please contact office@acapsj.org

References

  • Daigle, R., 2017. Sea Level Rise and Flooding Estimates for New Brunswick Coastal Sections, 2017. R.J. Daigle Enviro. Prepared for New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government.

 

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