A Specialist-Driven Plan to Adapt to Climate Change

In 2013, the Town of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia submitted a Municipal Climate Action Plan (MCCAP) to the Province of Nova Scotia, aiming to answer the question “how may Bridgewater be impacted by a changing climate, and how could our community respond to this?” Bridgewater is anticipating warmer winters and summers, more precipitation, more heat waves, more droughts, more extreme precipitation, and it’s sea level to rise by 0.5m to 1.5m over 90 years. These climatic changes lead to concerns over water availability and quality, sea level rise and changes to the performance of infrastructure systems, creating a need for local governments to change the way they manage their capital assets and operations. After analyzing the extreme weather and the hazards faced by the community, the MCCAP identified nine different vulnerabilities and risks labelled as “adaptation concerns.” These concerns would be addressed by nineteen adaptation strategies to be implemented by the Town, local residents, community partners and by regional departments/agencies over a 5-7 year timeframe. Further partnerships with stakeholders and community groups that had specific expertise in areas related to climate change and adaptation were consulted and these strategies were arranged into themes of Preserve, Avoid, Protect, Accommodate and Managed retreat. In the November 2019 Sustainability Report to Council, staff reported that 80% of actions in the MCCAP have been either partially or fully implemented.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Town of Bridgewater’s climate action plan doesn’t refer to any specific recent weather or climate events but rather looks to the future in anticipation of a changing climate. Warmer winters and summers, more precipitation, more heat waves, more droughts, more extreme precipitation, and a sea level to rise by 0.5m to 1.5m over 90 years are some of the predictions made for the province. These predictions were extrapolated from global and Canadian climate science data and published in the Atlantic Climate Solutions Association (ACASA) report in 2011. The town heavily collaborated with the Regional Emergency Management Organization (REMO) and utilized the Hazard Risk Vulnerability Assessment (HRVA) model as a framework to investigate and adapt to climate change related hazards on the local as well as regional level. In addition, a technical vulnerability assessment of the LaHave river was completed as it was identified that municipal and other built infrastructures as well as transportation networks may be significantly affected. The overall aim was to embody a proactive stance on adaptation by completing studies on flood risk and erosion of the river. Various other stakeholders were also consulted in order to fill any gaps in the process. Affected facilities and infrastructure were analyzed through consultations with the Engineering department and other Town staff. Community impacts were assessed through consultations with external stakeholders (public health, department of environment, community services, etc.), as well a public meeting that was hosted through the Community Sustainability Network. The stakeholders consulted include:
  • General Public
  • Town Engineering Department
  • Town Parks, Recreation & Culture Department
  • Bridgewater Public Service Commission
  • South Shore Health – Public Health Services
  • NS Department of Community Services – Lunenburg District Office
  • Lunenburg County Regional Emergency Management Organization (REMO)
  • South Shore Business Growth Association
  • Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation
  • Bridgewater Police Department

Identifying Actions

The Town’s adopted a risk management approach in which a broad set of climate related issues outlined by the province’s guidelines were laid out. These issues were used to identify the areas of greatest concern and the actions that can be taken by the Town to address and reduce the problems were mapped out. The Town also analyzed the extreme weather and slow onset hazards faced by the community together with the existing level of preparedness to create a summary of vulnerabilities and risks labeled “adaptation concerns”. The concerns met one of more of the following conditions:
  • Significance for human health and safety (especially for vulnerable populations),
  • Significance for long term damage to the community (from an infrastructure, social, economic or environmental perspective),
  • Significance for overwhelming of services and inability to provide emergency relief or recovery support to individuals or organizations affected

Nine vulnerabilities and risks were identified and ranked as a result of this process and this was followed up with 19 adaptation strategies that would be implemented by the Town, local residents and community partners. The strategies were summarized and published in 2014 in the Municipal Climate Change Action Plan (MCCAP). It was chaired by the Director of Planning and included the Town Engineer, the Regional Emergency Management Organization, the Sustainability Planner, a Fire Inspector as well as the Town Planner. Adaptation planning was an entirely new venture for the Town and to address the limited capacity, experts in this space were consulted along with other communities in Nova Scotia going through the same planning process, with the aim of learning the approaches being taken by the different specialists. The set of strategies and actions that can be taken by the Town were mapped out across a 5-7 year timeframe to address both adaptation (responding to a changing climate), as well as mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions).


As reported in the Town of Bridgewater’s 2019 sustainability report, 80% of the actions in the MCCAP have either partially or fully been implemented. This reports breaks down the progress of the initiative among the 5 priority areas of the plan with 33% of actions across all the areas being reported as complete and demonstrating success, 47% being partially implemented or under development and 20% of actions not yet started. Below is an example of key highlights of actions in from the “Emergency Planning” priority area from 2015 to 2019:

  • Emergency Planning: a new generator was installed at the Public Works Garage, and the back-up power system was extended to include fuel pumps and other areas of the facility. New generators were also installed at the Waste Water Treatment Plant, and at pump stations 3 and 4. In 2018 waste water facilities were assessed for their compliance with post disaster standards.

MCCAP actions that have not been completed and require ongoing stewardship have been assessed and re-assigned to relevant town departments. Below is an example of a department and reassigned actions that have yet to be complete:
Department: Engineering Department

  • Increase Capacity for Emergency Planning & REMO Participation
  • Develop & Improve Continuity of Operations and Plans
  • Improve Back-Up Power Sources & Emergency Supplies

A number of actions were also deemed to lack organizational relevance or priority or justify the added effort while others were categorized as lacking practical room for improvement. Below is one example of such action:

  • Set Up Local Climate Hazard Recording System for Infrastructure: Staff already monitors impact from storm damage and other climate change impacts. Additional effort would be required to increase reporting efforts. Given a lack of capacity to undertake this work, this item is not an organizational priority.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

As a result of the MCCAP various different plans and projects that were in development and  related to climate change adaptation were brought together under one framework and given an overarching target and goal. These projects included works such as drainage and stormwater planning, low impact development, comprehensive open space management planning, and energy planning which have all been implemented since the development of the MCCAP. These actions were monitored and evaluated in the Sustainability report published in 2019 which also provided status updates on actions. This report also explained that a review of the overall climate action plan is proposed but is awaiting recommendation for additional clarity from the Province on municipal climate change adaptation requirements. The main challenge faced in the adaptation planning process was the lack of expertise on climate adaptation withing the town and community. This venture was novel for the town and to address it, a flood risk mapping study was developing aiming to better understand the social, economic and environmental impacts related to urban flooding. Additionally, communities in Nova Scotia that were going through a similar planning process were consulted and collaboration with the Regional Management Organization (REMO) was emphasized as they had expertise which translated effectively with the adaptation planning process. According to the report by the Municipal Climate Services Collaborative, the MCCAP of Bridgewater and other local municipalities of Nova Scotia have been an important case study for academics who aim to understand the impacts of the program. The research concluded with three lessons learned about the key elements that help to local governments develop and implement adaptation plans:
  1. A legal mandate requiring all municipalities to formulate a MCCAP
  2. Collaborative capacity building and support from the province
  3. Most importantly an intergovernmental economic incentive such as the gas tax

Next Steps

Moving forward, the MCCAP actions that have not yet been completed have been reviewed by senior management and been reassigned to town departments for implementation. The Town’s 2019 sustainability report emphasized that implementation of these actions would require adequate resourcing which would need to be included in the Town’s budgeting going forward. In addition the report explains that the staff is awaiting recommendation for additional clarity and guidance from the Province on updating the requirements and reviewing the MCCAP.