Manitoba

Selkirk prepares for climate change so next generations aren't 'in a panic'

One Manitoba city has been pummelled enough by severe weather events in recent years due to climate change to know it needs to do whatever it can to plan for a future of extremes.

Splitting sewage and septic systems, installing solar, planting more trees among changes being made

A water tower extends into the sky in the City of Selkirk.

One Manitoba city has been pummelled enough by severe weather events in recent years due to climate change to know it needs to do whatever it can to plan for a future of extremes.

"We're going to get fewer rain events but far more intense [ones]," said Duane Nicol, chief administrative officer for the City of Selkirk, about 35 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

"We have a really detailed understanding of what climate change is going to mean for us."

A report released Thursday by the Council of Canadian Academies whittled down the many threats associated with climate change into a handful of the most pressing concerns.

Duane Nicol is CAO for the City of Selkirk, Man. (CBC)

Infrastructure changes were near the top of the list due to increasingly extreme weather — floods, rains and winds — that threatens buildings. The same severe natural forces can knock out out power lines and can lead to "cascading infrastructure failures," the report says.

The report by the council, made up of leading Canadian researchers, was carried out by industry, insurance, engineering, sociological and economy experts.

Selkirk has experienced extreme rain and wind events before and with the prospect of more flooding from the Red River on the horizon, Nicol said the city is trying to plan its way out of a disaster before it hits.

Nicol said the city of about 10,000 people is basing infrastructure and development initiatives on climate models and predicted extreme weather events in the coming decades.

Ice jams and spring floods along the Red River have caused property damage in and around Selkirk on and off for years. (CBC)

In one example, the city opted to split its storm and septic sewers to better handle deluges of water from the Red River during floods.

Solar panels have been installed atop a Selkirk arena, and geothermal technology has been rigged up at the local water treatment plant to cut down on energy costs and reduce reliance on the power grid.

Solar panels have been installed atop this Selkirk arena. (CBC)

And the city is leveraging natural means of making Selkirk better equipped to cope with increasingly hot summers.

The city is doing an audit of its urban tree canopy species with the intention of planting more. The hope is that will increase shaded areas and boost the canopy's capacity to absorb and hold water.

A city worker records measurements of trees around Selkirk as part of an audit. (CBC)

The changes may not sound like Herculean efforts, but many Canadian communities aren't making the same moves to the same degree as Selkirk and that's a problem, said Ian Mauro, co-director of the University of Winnipeg's Prairie Climate Centre (PCC).

"Part of the challenge is how do we bump up everyone's game; how do we make sure everyone is thinking about resilience?" he said.

Selkirk is basing its development and planning decisions on climate models from PCC's  Climate Atlas of Canada.

The centre is projecting Selkirk will go from nine 30 C days per year to 42 such days by 2080. Those models show similar spikes across the country.

Selkirk has tapped into a limited pot of climate change funding to make the shift. Nationally, there's a demand for more such funds earmarked for climate change innovation.

Selkirk, located about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is home to about 10,000 people. (CBC)

"What we're asking for … in this federal election is adaptation and mitigation funding that is permanent," said Halifax city Coun. Bill Karsten, who also serves on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. "Communities can choose: either adapt, or adapt."

That ultimatum, to adapt before some of the worst conceivable potential climate outcomes are reality, means bearing some of the costs up front — right now.

Nicol said climate is a factor in all capital spending decisions.

"We're evolving to an adapted state, as opposed to waiting and having the next council or citizens in 20 years have to do it in a panic."

Buildings, coastlines and northern communities face the biggest threat from climate change in Canada. That's according to a new report done for the federal government, which highlighted six top areas of risk for Canadian communities. 3:35

Corrections

  • We initially reported that Duane Nicol is the chief operating officer for the City of Selkirk. In fact, Nicol is the chief administrative officer.
    Jul 05, 2019 1:55 PM CT

With files from Cameron MacIntosh and Angela Johnston

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