Sunday, 4 November 2012

Stormwater and climate change adaptation

Climate change is expected to bring about more extreme weather events such as rain, snow, drought, heat waves and severe storms. The massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that extreme weather is now a reality. Stormwater systems will be affected by the increased frequency and intensity of rainfall events. The higher volume of rainfall may exceed the capacity of stormwater entry points or cause sewer overflows, leading to infrastructure damage and impacting water quality. Stormwater systems may need to be upgraded to deal with the increased flow. There is an urgent need to understand and adapt to the many climatic changes that are expected to occur. Innovative stormwater management practices are an important part of climate change adaptation.

A recent report published by climate scientist, Dr. Gordon McBean, examines how weather patterns in Canada have changed in the past and how they are expected to change in the future. The report aims to provide decision makers with the information they need to better adapt public and private infrastructure to the realities of the changing climate. In the report, Dr. McBean states, “Both the historical and projected trends shown in the research point to the need for Canada to adapt now in order to minimize social and economic costs in the future.” Predictions made for Atlantic Canada in the report include a likely increase in hurricane and storm activity in the region with resulting storm surges. Freezing rain events will likely increase by 50 per cent in Newfoundland. Nova Scotia could see increases of about 20 per cent.

These extreme weather events have had already had huge environmental and economic impacts in Canada. In 2011, catastrophic events cost Canadian insurers roughly $1.7B and almost $1B in each of the two previous years. The majority of these insured losses were caused by extreme weather events, but smaller weather events also played a role in significant property damage for consumers (IBC). 

Climate change impacts all of us and we all have an important role in reducing the potential impacts of stormwater. Source control involves managing runoff on individual lots and relies on property owners and developers to implement practices to reduce the amount of runoff leaving a site. Installing a rain barrel, creating a rain garden, retaining green space and not using pesticides are a few small practices that will protect your home, increase the resiliency of our stormwater systems and improve our ability to adapt to climate change.

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