Collaborative adaptation planning in Alberta watersheds

Since 2010, a series of collaborative projects have brought together diverse stakeholders and partners to explore climate change implications for Alberta’s water supplies and to develop strategies to support sustainable and resilient water management. These projects are helping to build a common understanding of climate change impacts on the balance between water supply and demand at the basin-level. For instance, the Bow River Basin Working Group put forward 12 recommendations, which include feasibility studies for three potential flood risk reduction structures. The Athabasca River Basin Working Group put forward recommendations, which include land-use planning to maintain natural hydrological functions, sharing and applying Indigenous knowledge, and establishing environmental flow needs.

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Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Between 2011 and 2012, a province-wide assessment of climate change-related risks and opportunities evaluated the potential impacts of climate change on agricultural production and the sector’s capacity to adapt. The assessment made evident that due to British Columbia’s diversity (with respect to agriculture, ecology and climate), a regional approach to climate change adaptation is required. Building on these findings, in 2012–2013 a pilot project was initiated with agricultural producers, agricultural organizations and local governments in Delta and the Peace River and Cowichan Valley regions. Each planning process resulted in a distinctive set of local sector impacts and priorities, as well as a series of strategies and actions for adapting and strengthening resilience. In 2013–2014, following completion of the pilot, the Regional Adaptation Program was launched. The Program is delivered by the Climate & Agriculture Initiative BC (CAI). The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) assisted in the production of the agriculturally relevant regional climate projections for the 2020s, 2050’s and 2080s that are presented in each regional plan. Some of the overall impacts of climate change for BC agriculture have been identified as follows:

  • More frequent occurrence and severity of summer drought;
  • Water shortages in more regions;
  • Decreased snowfall in alpine areas leading to reduced snowpack and water shortages;
  • Increased precipitation (frequently through more extreme events) and subsequent vulnerability to flooding, erosion and nutrient loss;
  • More frequent and intense extreme weather events (windstorms, forest fires, hail, droughts and floods);
  • Increase in growing degree days (heat units) and a longer frost free season, leading to a potential for broader range of viable crops in some regions; nad
  • Increase in pest and disease pressure due to winter survival.

Identifying Actions

The Regional Adaptation Program (RAP) brings together producers, agricultural organizations and government staff and agencies to collaboratively identify priority climate impacts and strategies and to implement actions that support agricultural adaptation. The program has two key phases:

  1. Developing an adaptation plan specific to the region; and
  2. Implementing projects to achieve priority strategies and actions identified within the plan.

Each region’s strategies and actions reflect the particular climate change impacts in that area, as well as the adaptive capacity and adaptation challenges and opportunities specific to agriculture in that region.

As an example of the adaptation planning process, the development of the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George Adaptation Strategies involved three key stages.

  • Stage 1 – Background research and local partnerships – Research included interviews and review of relevant documents and related activities. A local Advisory Committee was formed to provide input throughout the planning process.
  • Stage 2 – Workshops – A total of four workshops and two focus groups were held. The first set of workshops focused on reviewing climate change projections, discussing the associated agricultural impacts and identifying priority areas of risk. Developing strategies and actions for adapting to these priority areas then became the focus of the second set of workshops. A total of 106 individual participants attended one or more of the project workshops and/or the final implementation meetings.
  • Stage 3 – Implementation Meeting – An implementation meeting and a supplementary focus group were held, which involved prioritization of draft actions based on which were most important, which were easiest to implement and which would support enhancement of capacity for additional adaptation. The meetings also included discussion of steps to implement prioritized actions.


Between 2013 and 2020, eight regional adaptation plans were completed under RAP in the following regions: Cariboo; Delta; Fraser Valley; Okanagan; Peace; Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George; Kootenay & Boundary; and Vancouver Island.

As an example, the Kootenay & Boundary Adaptation Strategies identified four impact areas as highest priorities with respect to agricultural adaptation in the region:

  • Impact Area 1 – Warmer & drier summer conditions
  • Impact Area 2 – Increasing wildfire risk
  • Impact Area 3 – Increasing variability
  • Impact Area 4 – Increasing risk of spring flooding

Each impact area includes a background description, adaptation strategies, and adaptation actions to support the Kootenay & Boundary region agriculture sector with adapting to climate change. Examples of adaptation strategies include: improve tools and resources for irrigation efficiency and water management best practices; promote wildfire preparedness planning at the farm and regional levels; and slow and capture runoff through enhancement of small-scale green infrastructure. Following the strategies and actions, the plan highlights those actions identified for near-term implementation and provides information on key participants, timeframes and cost ranges for near-term priority actions.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

CAI is monitoring the implementation of each regional plan. Updates to plans that also assessed progress were complete for five regions in 2017, including: the Cariboo Adaptation Strategies plan; Delta Adaptation Strategies plan; Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategies plan; Okanagan Adaptation Strategies plan; and Peace Adaptation Strategies plan.

As an example, the Cariboo Adaptation Strategies Update provides details on the strategies and actions that have been implemented to date for each of the plans priority impact areas. By the spring of 2018, nine regional projects had been completed and funding had been fully committed. In addition to providing details on the strategies and actions that have been implemented to date, the Cariboo Adaptation Strategies Update outlines priority actions that would support further progress and implementation, including a list of activities, implementation details, possible partners, timeframe, and cost. A new phase of project implementation began in 2018 (with an additional installment of funds) and another 5 projects have been implemented in the Cariboo to continue to build on earlier work and identified priorities.