Fort St. John Community Vulnerability Assessment

In 2018, the City of Fort St. John, British Columbia, along with the Northeast Climate Risk Network (NERCN), embarked on the creation of a Community Vulnerability Assessment which identified impacts related to increases in temperature, heat, and precipitation before forming a number of actions to address those of highest risk including a water conservation program, the provision of emergency fire evacuation kits, and training and equipment provision to address local flooding. This assessment is part of a broader project being conducted for NECRN. The NECRN includes partners from The City of Fort St. John, along with five other communities, including the City of Dawson Creek, the District of Tumbler Ridge, the District of Chetwynd, and the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, and the Village of Pouce Coupe. They have come together to understand better and build capacity to address the impacts of climate change. NECRN is a peer-mentoring network on adaptation to climate change, which also serves as an advisory body for the overall Northeast Climate Risk Project. This project was initiated in 2018 by the Fraser Basin Council. The Project has three goals. Firstly, support the Northeast BC local government partners in preparing for a changing climate and understanding the associated risks and vulnerabilities. Second, collaboratively address climate risks at a regional and community scale through a peer network. Finally, increase staff and stakeholder awareness of climate change impacts through the planning process as a first step to building community, public and private sector understanding of climate change impacts.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Information from Natural Resources Canada shows that the Country is warming twice as quickly as the average global rate while the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) notes that Northeastern BC is warming even faster. The report utilizes data from PCIC’s 2019 report, Climate Projections for the BC Northeast Region, in order to gain a detailed understanding of the projected changes to Northeastern BC related to temperature, precipitation, heating and cooling, and growing seasons. Authors highlight seven changes of particular future significance including: increased precipitation across all seasons, considerably warmer summers, summer will narrowly remain the wettest season, temperatures will create water supply challenges, winter temperatures will warm, extreme storm events will become more common, summer stream flow will decrease in all basins. Preliminary steps to understand impacts included a gap analysis which consisted of a combination of document review and interviews. This gap analysis was followed by a qualitative vulnerability and risk assessment process with stakeholders through a workshop on March 7th, 2019. Climate impacts identified as of greatest risk include:

  • Potential damage to key infrastructure from heavy rainfall
  • Increasing intensity of rainfall causing more frequent localized flooding and sewer surcharge, which can result in damage to buildings and health impacts
  • Increasing frequency of wildfires and landslides impacting evacuation routes and transportation in and out of the community
  • Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events locally and/or regionally resulting in pressure on the physical and emotional capacity of the community staff & volunteers including emergency services and fire fighters.

Identifying Actions

A Climate Adaptation Team was formed from attendees of the vulnerability and risk assessment workshop in order to participate in an action planning workshop. The final list of higher risk impacts was used as the basis for action planning. Action planning focused on exploring options and next steps to reduce these key risks and enhance resilience to these climate impacts. Lower risk impacts were provided to the teams as well, to provide an opportunity to scan for those that could easily be addressed by low-effort/no-regret actions. The action planning process was introduced in Workshop Two, and was later completed by the Climate Adaptation Team working with the support of the project team. Through this process the Adaptation Team formed both community specific and region-wide actions. Community actions were organized by climate hazard and included actions such as:

  • Emergency Operation Centre Plan: Public readiness for Emergency Fire Evacuation on evacuation kits, routes, reducing risk, etc.
  • Develop a capacity map for storm and sanitary sewer systems
  • Increase technology options for pothole and patching repairs
  • Public education and warning methods to mitigate health risks (associated with flooding and sewer surcharge)

Regional actions included:

  • Regional collaboration with the Province on understanding forest management for pest (and wildfire) resilience
  • Several sewage and drainage studies underway in the region. Resultant recommendations could be shared with the network via webinar with consultants on hand.

Implementation

NECRN has integrated implementation considerations directly into their vulnerability assessment framework with the intention of building capacity for implementation among participating municipalities. This includes individual and joint videoconferences to identify near term priority actions and exploration of additional opportunities to build collective capacity. In addition to a thorough consideration of the factors which contribute to successful implementation, Fort St. John’s detailed action plan displays a multitude of actions which are currently underway, and which directly address identified high risk impacts. Among them are:

  • Develop a capacity map for storm and sanitary sewer systems
  • Update asset management plan
  • Slope stability study

The detailed action plan sets out actions in relation to the high-risk impacts identified throughout the vulnerability assessment. The plan considers not only the status of a given action (underway, Act Now/by X year, Monitor, Investigate further), but also identifies the most appropriate lead department, the amount of effort required to implement (monetary or human resources), next steps in advancing the action, as well as how the proposed or under way action addresses relevant high risk impacts. The vast majority of implemented actions have been led by Integrated Service Delivery or the Public Works department at the City of Fort St. John and noted as requiring medium or high effort. Many planned actions will be led by the city’s protective services.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Aside from their intended benefits, the implementation of actions has also provided the City of Fort St. John with valuable insight to enable more effective future implementation. For instance, in an attempt to strengthen their water conservation program through the addition of associated education programs, the need for increased staff time was quickly identified as a barrier. In another instance, the development of a capacity map for storm and sanitary systems led to the understanding that an improved stormwater flow route map would aid in its development. Other actions such as adequate budgetary allocation to address flood remediation and mitigation led to subsequent successful actions such as the improvement of stormwater infrastructure at multiple sites through phase 1 of the city’s stormwater master plan. These improvements will work to increase the city’s resilience to flood events. While the detailed action plan does not provide information on how actions may be monitored, many of the actions currently underway have been identified as in need of monitoring.

Next Steps

The document identifies the Climate Adaptation Team – a subset of participants of the City of Fort St. John’s workshop one on climate impacts and vulnerability assessment – as best suited to carry out the next steps of the vulnerability assessment thanks to their understanding of the climate projections, potential impacts, and priority risks. There is a need to continue working across disciplines in the organization and in collaboration with community stakeholders to mitigate risks and build resilience to changes in climatic conditions moving forward. The document suggests a general monitoring and review system to ensure implementation efforts are successful. These include continued monitoring of:

  1. Climate projections – particularly any regional and local data;
  2. Actual and potential impacts – for example, air quality due to wildfire was not a
    common concern just a few years ago. New impacts will emerge, and existing ones will
    evolve;
  3. Opportunities to mitigate risks and build resilience – windows of opportunity should be
    constantly in mind to take advantage of sources of funding, partnerships, awareness, and political will, etc.

Authors suggest formalizing the monitoring and review process through a strategy which stipulates review of the above items within time periods ranging from 1-5 years. Finally, it is noted that the NECRN will continue to provide support in Fort St. John’s efforts to make continued process on actions identified in their community vulnerability assessment.

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