Risk-based adaptation and community planning in Elkford, British Columbia

In 2008, the District of Elkford, with the support of the Columbia Basin Trust, developed a local Adaptation Strategy that assessed the risks posed by climate change and identified corresponding adaptation actions. The District of Elkford is a small community in the Rocky Mountains of south-eastern British Columbia. Historically, Elkford has dealt with several climate-related hazards, including flooding, drought and wildfires. To prepare for future impacts of climate change, Elkford developed an Adaptation Strategy concurrently with a revision to Elkford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), allowing the two to be fully integrated. Elkford developed a process that emphasized community and staff engagement, and the pairing of local knowledge with scientific data and projections to determine areas of priority for further climate impact research. The research team used public input and best available science to focus in on three priority areas: Wildfire, Flooding and Water Supply. These three priority areas were determined to be most vulnerable to future climatic changes, and in the context of Elkford, were of most concern to the community in terms of impacts on community safety and wellness. For each climate change issue of concern to the community, adaptation goals and objectives were identified and adaptation actions formulated, resulting in four overarching goals, nine objectives and 26 actions. This case study highlights the ability of a small community to efficiently enhance resilience to climate change by integrating results of a simple risk-based assessment of vulnerability into standard community planning processes.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

In 2008, Elkford was chosen to partner with the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) in a year-long process on adapting to local climatic changes. Elkford’s interest in the initiative was a result of the desire to see implications of future climatic changes incorporated into their Official Community Plan (OCP). Historically, Elkford has dealt with climate-related hazards, including flooding, drought and wildfires. To understand future climate impacts, Elkford examined potential precipitation and temperature changes using historical (last 100 years) and regional modeling projections (next ~70 years) provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC). The team investigated climate change impacts based on the data provided by PCIC, researched the scientific literature, and gathered information from experts to explore what other biophysical and anthropogenic impacts may affect Elkford and the surrounding region. Existing information on climate change impacts and projections was used to develop impact pathways that identify physical and ecological impacts of climate change and associated socioeconomic impacts on the community. Through this, six priority areas were identified:

  1. wildfire
  2. flooding/land slides
  3. snow
  4. water availability
  5. ecosystem change, and
  6. disease/pests.

These priorities were presented to the community to determine whether they reflected their key areas of concern through booths in the mall, a paper and web-based survey, and an open house event. A Vulnerability and Risk Assessment was conducted to find gaps in the identified planning areas and to help determine what to pay attention to first. Risk was assessed by identifying the probability of a climate change related event occurring within a 20-year period and the vulnerability of the community. The team then undertook action planning, followed by an implementation, monitoring and adjusting phase.

Identifying Actions

The Elkford team based their adaptation planning process on input from two key documents: Preparing for Climate Change – A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments and, Adapting to Climate Change – A Risk-based Guide for Ontario Municipalities. They adapted these processes to form their own series of steps, all of which were completed by the team, except the final step of implementation; which is led by the District. Climate change adaptation goals, objectives, and strategies were developed for the District of Elkford by the consulting team based on the results of the risk and vulnerability assessment, background science, and community and staff engagements. The Adaptation Strategy was developed concurrently with a revision to Elkford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), allowing the two to be fully integrated, a first in British Columbia. In total, the Adaptation Strategy defined four overarching goals, nine objectives and 26 actions. The goals are:

  • A resilient FireSmart community;
  • Prepare for and mitigates flood risk;
  • Understand and effectively manage water supply; and
  • Consider climate change in future planning and development.

The goals are meant to help direct the implementation of Elkford’s climate change adaptation strategies (CCA). Each CCA strategy is linked to an objective which identifies the overarching purpose of the strategy. For each goal, they are assigned a timeline (high urgency, 0-2 years), (moderate urgency, 3-10 years), and (low urgency, 10+ years) and a list of actions.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

This case study highlights the ability of a small community to efficiently enhance resilience to climate change by integrating results of a simple risk-based assessment of vulnerability into standard community planning processes. District staff are now updating Elkford’s development regulations and bylaws. The Zoning and Subdivision Servicing (Infrastructure) by-laws are viewed as particularly important in enhancing resilience to climate change. For example, the new flood plain development by-law may include increased set-back requirements to reduce flood risks. In addition, council has requested funding from the provincial government to raise the local dike, which protects homes, businesses and critical municipal infrastructure in low-lying areas of the community.

Elkford is facing various challenges as it updates by Policy, Laws & Regulations, including those related to the limited availability of detailed projections of future climate change impacts and precedents of considering only historic data in infrastructure design. The community has identified several lessons learned that are being shared to assist other communities that are undertaking similar adaptation plans and strategies. These include:

  1. the benefits of modifying existing adaptation risk assessment and decision-support tools and processes, rather than developing something completely new;
  2. the critical role of public engagement in the planning process;
  3. the value of placing initial focus on “no-regrets” actions, a policy or measure that provides net social and/or economic benefits regardless of future climate changes;
  4. the importance of integrating adaptation into a community’s existing planning policy and regulations;
  5. that community plans, including those for upgrading and new infrastructure, require forward-looking information in addition to historical information; and
  6. that effective strategies can include a range of actions that complement each other in the achievement of a defined goal, rather than defining adaptation “options” that require choosing between actions.

Implementation

District of Elkford staff and community members are responsible for ensuring that actions in the strategy are implemented over time. As the staff has been involved at each step in the process, they have the knowledge and skill set to monitor and adjust this plan over time. The goals, objectives and actions identified in the Adaptation Strategy were integrated directly into Elkford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which was adopted by council in May 2010. Adaptation is included throughout the document. For example, the OCP sets out a Wildfire Protection Zone that requires that developers submit fire hazard and risk assessments conducted by certified professionals before a development permit can be issued. The OCP also calls for the development of a community evacuation plan in the event of an extreme wildfire or flooding event. The Zoning and Subdivision Servicing (Infrastructure) bylaws are viewed as particularly important in enhancing resilience to climate change. For example, the new flood plain development bylaw may include increased set-back requirements to reduce flood risks. In addition, council has requested funding from the provincial government to raise the local dike, which protects homes, businesses and critical municipal infrastructure in low-lying areas of the community. District staff are now updating Elkford’s development regulations and bylaws. In Elkford, the process of assessing risk and incorporating the findings into the OCP took about one year and cost just over C$31,000 (plus significant volunteer time).

Next Steps

The ultimate success of a climate adaptation plan is dependent on the willingness of the community to implement and act upon the recommendations. The District of Elkford has demonstrated significant dedication to ensure the community moves towards increased resiliency. The District has taken the appropriate first steps of integrating long-term planning processes with climate projections to ensure decisions are being made with the future in mind. It is recommended that the individuals responsible for each action review the strategies on a regular basis to gauge progress on implementation. The team acknowledges the challenges of funding and capital expenditure that exists at the local government level. The District of Elkford should adjust the timeframes if necessary based on unexpected events and/or changing community priorities.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

In 2008, Elkford was chosen to partner with the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) in a year-long process on adapting to local climatic changes. Elkford’s interest in the initiative was a result of the desire to see implications of future climatic changes incorporated into their Official Community Plan (OCP). Historically, Elkford has dealt with climate-related hazards, including flooding, drought and wildfires. To understand future climate impacts, Elkford examined potential precipitation and temperature changes using historical (last 100 years) and regional modeling projections (next ~70 years) provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC). The team investigated climate change impacts based on the data provided by PCIC, researched the scientific literature, and gathered information from experts to explore what other biophysical and anthropogenic impacts may affect Elkford and the surrounding region. Existing information on climate change impacts and projections was used to develop impact pathways that identify physical and ecological impacts of climate change and associated socioeconomic impacts on the community. Through this, six priority areas were identified:

  1. wildfire
  2. flooding/land slides
  3. snow
  4. water availability
  5. ecosystem change, and
  6. disease/pests.

These priorities were presented to the community to determine whether they reflected their key areas of concern through booths in the mall, a paper and web-based survey, and an open house event. A Vulnerability and Risk Assessment was conducted to find gaps in the identified planning areas and to help determine what to pay attention to first. Risk was assessed by identifying the probability of a climate change related event occurring within a 20-year period and the vulnerability of the community. The team then undertook action planning, followed by an implementation, monitoring and adjusting phase.

Identifying Actions

The Elkford team based their adaptation planning process on input from two key documents: Preparing for Climate Change – A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments and, Adapting to Climate Change – A Risk-based Guide for Ontario Municipalities. They adapted these processes to form their own series of steps, all of which were completed by the team, except the final step of implementation; which is led by the District. Climate change adaptation goals, objectives, and strategies were developed for the District of Elkford by the consulting team based on the results of the risk and vulnerability assessment, background science, and community and staff engagements. The Adaptation Strategy was developed concurrently with a revision to Elkford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), allowing the two to be fully integrated, a first in British Columbia. In total, the Adaptation Strategy defined four overarching goals, nine objectives and 26 actions. The goals are:

  • A resilient FireSmart community;
  • Prepare for and mitigates flood risk;
  • Understand and effectively manage water supply; and
  • Consider climate change in future planning and development.

The goals are meant to help direct the implementation of Elkford’s climate change adaptation strategies (CCA). Each CCA strategy is linked to an objective which identifies the overarching purpose of the strategy. For each goal, they are assigned a timeline (high urgency, 0-2 years), (moderate urgency, 3-10 years), and (low urgency, 10+ years) and a list of actions.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

This case study highlights the ability of a small community to efficiently enhance resilience to climate change by integrating results of a simple risk-based assessment of vulnerability into standard community planning processes. District staff are now updating Elkford’s development regulations and bylaws. The Zoning and Subdivision Servicing (Infrastructure) by-laws are viewed as particularly important in enhancing resilience to climate change. For example, the new flood plain development by-law may include increased set-back requirements to reduce flood risks. In addition, council has requested funding from the provincial government to raise the local dike, which protects homes, businesses and critical municipal infrastructure in low-lying areas of the community.

Elkford is facing various challenges as it updates by Policy, Laws & Regulations, including those related to the limited availability of detailed projections of future climate change impacts and precedents of considering only historic data in infrastructure design. The community has identified several lessons learned that are being shared to assist other communities that are undertaking similar adaptation plans and strategies. These include:

  1. the benefits of modifying existing adaptation risk assessment and decision-support tools and processes, rather than developing something completely new;
  2. the critical role of public engagement in the planning process;
  3. the value of placing initial focus on “no-regrets” actions, a policy or measure that provides net social and/or economic benefits regardless of future climate changes;
  4. the importance of integrating adaptation into a community’s existing planning policy and regulations;
  5. that community plans, including those for upgrading and new infrastructure, require forward-looking information in addition to historical information; and
  6. that effective strategies can include a range of actions that complement each other in the achievement of a defined goal, rather than defining adaptation “options” that require choosing between actions.

Implementation

District of Elkford staff and community members are responsible for ensuring that actions in the strategy are implemented over time. As the staff has been involved at each step in the process, they have the knowledge and skill set to monitor and adjust this plan over time. The goals, objectives and actions identified in the Adaptation Strategy were integrated directly into Elkford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which was adopted by council in May 2010. Adaptation is included throughout the document. For example, the OCP sets out a Wildfire Protection Zone that requires that developers submit fire hazard and risk assessments conducted by certified professionals before a development permit can be issued. The OCP also calls for the development of a community evacuation plan in the event of an extreme wildfire or flooding event. The Zoning and Subdivision Servicing (Infrastructure) bylaws are viewed as particularly important in enhancing resilience to climate change. For example, the new flood plain development bylaw may include increased set-back requirements to reduce flood risks. In addition, council has requested funding from the provincial government to raise the local dike, which protects homes, businesses and critical municipal infrastructure in low-lying areas of the community. District staff are now updating Elkford’s development regulations and bylaws. In Elkford, the process of assessing risk and incorporating the findings into the OCP took about one year and cost just over C$31,000 (plus significant volunteer time).

Next Steps

The ultimate success of a climate adaptation plan is dependent on the willingness of the community to implement and act upon the recommendations. The District of Elkford has demonstrated significant dedication to ensure the community moves towards increased resiliency. The District has taken the appropriate first steps of integrating long-term planning processes with climate projections to ensure decisions are being made with the future in mind. It is recommended that the individuals responsible for each action review the strategies on a regular basis to gauge progress on implementation. The team acknowledges the challenges of funding and capital expenditure that exists at the local government level. The District of Elkford should adjust the timeframes if necessary based on unexpected events and/or changing community priorities.

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