Goal to anticipate, prepare for potential impacts, reduce risks
Barrie's climate change adaption strategy is to both anticipate and prepare for the potential impacts of climate change, and reduce the risks.MARK WANZEL photo
Barrie is preparing for Mother Nature's worst.
A climate change adaption strategy will be considered by city councillors Monday, and the plan is timely - as severe weather, extensive rainfall, hits the area this weekend.
The strategy's intention is to both anticipate and prepare for the potential impacts of climate change, and reduce the risks.
“It’s a huge issue and it’s a long-term problem so always best to approach those issues comprehensively,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman. “Being ready to respond to severe weather, and building infrastructure that can withstand it, are the two major steps to take.
“The keyword is 'resilience' – infrastructure and systems that can withstand increasingly severe weather and changing climate.”
Ben Longstaff is general manager for integrated water management with Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA), which helped develop the city strategy.
“It's a global trend ... with different agencies and organizations to make sure they are prepared,” he said, “so you have a full understanding of the challenges, of exactly what particular climatic event might occur, and when.
“Having a plan to be able to respond to that is certainly highly beneficial.”
The strategy, to guide future planning and development, would address flooding, erosion, the spread of invasive species, protecting water quality, tree damage, protecting ecosystems, etc. The last measures could include more forested areas, which would also increase shade.
Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), which covers about 27% of Barrie, near its western border, was also involved in formulating this strategy.
Gayle Wood, its chief administrative officer, said stormwater management is particularly important.
“When were getting flooding, we're getting flash flooding that tends to be more extreme than we've seen in the past,” she said.
“On the flipside, we also know that with climate change adaptation, there are things that we can do in terms of the natural environment to assist,” she said, mentioning urban reforestation and protecting wetlands.
So it's not just bigger pipes, Lehman said
“With flooding, the city can build stormwater systems for higher capacity, but we can’t and shouldn’t just assume we can build our way out of the problem,” he said. “That would be expensive and ultimately like running on a treadmill that keeps speeding up.
“In my opinion our approach needs to shift the service model to one that doesn’t just respond to the problem but helps deal with it before it becomes a problem.”
Barrie has had its share of severe weather.
An ice storm in late March, 2016 left thousands of residents without electricity, along with branches and trees down from the weight of the ice throughout the city.
The Angus tornado in June of 2014 damaged trees and property's in Barrie's south-end.
In June of 2005, nearly 150 millimetres of rain fell in the Barrie area - accompanied by hail that smacked off windows and high winds that blew over trees.
And more severe weather could be on the way.
Environment Canada has issued a rainfall warning for this area, with 50-70 millimetres of rain expected through Saturday.
In Barrie, it was calling for 10 to 15 mm of rain Friday night, another 5.0 to 10 mm on Saturday. The forecast for Sunday is a 70% chance of showers, or flurries.
Which is why a strategy is so important, Longstaff said, to adapt in the best way to conditions.
“Through the development of a strategy, you can really identify what are those factors that are changing,” he said.
Longstaff mentioned such changes as ice cover, along with the frequency and intensity of storms.
“If you have an understanding of the factors, then you can start to understand how best we are to adapt, for us as a conservation authority or as municipalities,” he said.
Almost 60 actions the city can or is already taking have been identified to adapt to climate change.
They include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, upgrading infrastructure and emergency response planning.
Goals include maintaining public health and safety, minimizing the risks to buildings and properties, minimizing the disruption to community services and helping local businesses, and the tourism industry, adapt to the changing climate conditions.
The city has already taken measures to deal with climate change, and severe weather.
Bridges at Dyment's and Bunker's creeks, at the waterfront, have been enlarged and improved so their drainage capacity reduces the flooding risk.
Major drainage improvements are also taking place at the bottom of Mulcaster Street, with the Sophia Creek watershed.
But Longstaff said there are other solutions.
“We have been promoting, for the last few years, this low-impact development,” he said. “The management of stormwater as close to the source as possible, try to infiltrate it.
“Mimic nature, so that it's not going into the stormwater sewer and flushing straight out and causing localized flooding. Adapting to climate change is obviously doing smarter management.”
“We need to shift the thinking to distributed stormwater management,” he said. “This means going from a model where we try to move all that water as fast as possible through pipes and culverts into the lake, to a model where we encourage more infiltration through things like rain gardens and what’s called low impact design – more opportunities for the rainwater to get into the ground.
“Also, by opening up our creeks at the mouth in the lake (naturalization), we allow natural filters to better deal with runoff before it goes into the lake,” Lehman said.
The city also has an energy management plan, which includes replacing Barrie's streetlights with LED bulbs – which could save more than $1 million annually for the $5.5-million investment.
Lehman said resilience is also critical with the electricity infrastructure, something Alectra (formerly PowerStream) has been working on - pioneering new technology such as the microgrid in Penetanguishene, which can keep the lights on for homes and businesses through neighbourhood-level storage and generation, when the main grid goes down.
His other example is frozen water pipes, a real problem the winter before last.
“Although there’s still some question as to whether the polar vortex is due to climate change, there’s no question that had a direct impact on Barrie’s infrastructure – we had hundreds of homes with frozen pipes,” Lehman said. “We’ve been visiting those homes and businesses to bury their lateral pipes deeper to escape the frost.
“That may not be one where there’s any answer than just burying the pipes deeper, but our smart water meters may also create a way for us to help homeowners prevent freezing, if we can put the data to work.
“Basically, climate change is already affecting us, and this is a plan for adaptation by thinking differently about how we build our infrastructure,” he said.
Barrie's climate change adaption strategy would be updated every five years.
Easter ice storm, 2016, final summary of the impact of the ice storm on parks and forestry, specifically impacts on trees
Total public trees impacted: more than 1,850 on streets, approximately 500 in parks and natural areas:
Approximately 400 trees destroyed and completely removed
1,950 trees with significant branches broken or damaged by ice
Direct costs, not including equipment rates for city equipment
$300,500 in contracted services costs (cleanup, removals and replanting)
$103,500 in staff hours and overtime expenses for immediate cleanup (first two weeks)
$33,500 in staff hours for clean-up that extended to lower priority items over next month (extended another month)
$437,500 in direct expenses related to ice storm
Source: City of Barrie