City, NCC preparing for wetter, warmer future

The City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission are looking for an expert to tell them how much warmer, wetter and wilder local weather might get.

Seeking expert to predict effect of changing climate on Rideau Canal, infrastructure

Flood waters breached the Gatineau River and flooded neighbourhoods in Gatineau, in 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission are looking for an expert to tell them how climate change might affect local weather so they can prepare for a wetter, warmer future.

The city and the NCC have issued a joint call for a consultant who can compute meteorological data to show what the next 20 to 80 years might look like in the capital.

Given that we're experiencing some extreme weather events, for example with the flooding, I think there's a need to do this now- Emily Rideout, NCC

Both already know the broad trends to expect, but say they need quality climate projections specific to the capital region that all departments can work from.

Once they have the data in hand, both organizations plan to come up with lists of the biggest risks for their operations — whether that's flooded shorelines or major utilities that can be knocked out by storms.

Skateway study

The NCC last commissioned a study more than a decade ago, when it learned what warmer winters might mean for skating on the Rideau Canal and cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park.

Now it's time for an update, said Emily Rideout, who's overseeing the project for the NCC.

"Given that we're experiencing some extreme weather events, for example with the flooding [in Gatineau in 2017], I think there's a need to do this now," she said.

People skate at Paterson Creek on the Rideau Canal Skateway on its opening day, in Ottawa on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (The Canadian Press)

The NCC is the area's biggest landowner and maintains hundreds of buildings, Rideout said. This data will lead to an adaptation strategy to handle issues like flooding on the Ottawa River and cooling federal buildings in extreme heat. 

As for the Rideau Canal Skateway, the NCC plan to use the data to do a specific report on how the skating season might be affected.

Ottawa preparing to adapt

Once the City of Ottawa has solid local climate projections, it, too, will come up with lists of the biggest gaps to address.

Public health officials could use the projections to think about diseases such as Lyme and West Nile, while public works staff might look at the data to think about how power outages affect utilities, suggested Julia Robinson, who works on the city's climate change and resiliency team.

The city has recently focused on what it needs to do to curb the emissions that cause climate change and hit its targets, but Robinson explained this data will help it deal with the other part of the puzzle: adapting to a new normal.

"This time of year everyone is looking at the potholes, and clearly there is a link between our changing weather patterns and freeze-thaw cycles, and what that means for our road servicing."

The city is diving into its most important documents in the coming years, including updating its official plan, and Robinson said data could lead the city to require future neighbourhoods be built in ways that make them more able to withstand heavy rain or stay cool in heat waves.

Hydro crews work to restore power following the tornado in Dunrobin in the west end of Ottawa last fall. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Other cities tackling climate risks

Other cities have already done localized projections.

Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, Ont., together commissioned a report to learn that their region would have far more hot summer days, intense rain and milder winters.

A report for Durham Region, Ont., in 2016 also described higher temperatures and wilder storms by the 2040s. That report also laid out specific ways the changed weather would affect city business.

For instance, road and utility crews might need to work shifts that avoid the hottest hours of a summer day.

Durham took it further, looking at electrical equipment that could be vulnerable to flooding, and considering encouraging light-coloured pavement and roofs to reduce the "urban heat island" effect.

The NCC and City of Ottawa are looking for proposals until April 4. They hope to have a report to share with the public by late 2019 or early 2020.

Gatineau is gathering projections for its own climate change plans, and expects those in 2020.


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