Climate change will affect every aspect of Canadian life. It is possible, however, to project with varying degrees of certainty the impacts these changes could have and try to plan for or reduce them. These impacts may seem to some like issues that will only affect far flung coastal communities or remote rural areas, but what if we we’re talking about a major watershed that traverses a metropolitan area with millions of people?
Credit Valley Conservation had the following questions: How would changes in rainfall, temperature, and other climate impacts affect their watershed? What impacts would these changes have on the surrounding community and infrastructure? How can any potential damage be prevented or at least minimized through better planning?
Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) is one of 36 conservation authorities in Ontario with a mandate to ensure Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats are conserved, restored and responsibly managed through watershed-based programs.
CVC decided to look ahead and commissioned a study of a particular region of Mississauga that drains an area of approximately 35 km2 to Lake Ontario. The area is densely populated and highly urbanized with over 94 percent of the land developed. With so many people in such a densely packed urban environment, what are the potential consequences if climate change shifts the intensity and frequency of rainfall events?
It is estimated that up to 75 percent of the Greater Toronto Area was built prior to the introduction of proper flood control measures. Considering the number of rivers and streams in the region, there exists significant risk to the tens of billions of dollars in civic infrastructure in Canada’s largest city region and economic zone.
Risk Sciences International (RSI) was asked to use the insights they had gleaned from their decades of experience analyzing climate data to help determine the potential future impacts climate change might have on the study area. To develop these insights, RSI turned, with its project partner Nodelcorp Inc., to their in-house tool developed specifically with these sorts of projects in mind: CCHIP, the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal.
RSI Climate Group staff brought to the development of CCHIP an impressive set of expertise: decades of experience with Environment Canada; nationally and internationally recognized expertise in engineering climatology; climate and weather extension services expertise in Canada’s agriculture and natural resource sectors; decades of pro bono contributions to Canada’s national codes and standards system; and, international recognition as IPCC authors and reviewers.
CCHIP is a web-based tool that uses data from 40 of the most recent Global Climate Models (GCMs), as well as many other sources, to provide defensible, actionable conclusions about changes across a broad array of climate and severe weather-related conditions. By tailoring this information for specific locations and sectors, CCHIP helps planners, engineers and decision makers account for future climate change impacts.
Another unique feature of CCHIP is that it is tailored for use with national codes and standards for the design and engineering of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, buildings, telecommunications and electrical systems. By combining quality controlled data, tailored computational capacity, and many options for visualizing results, CCHIP can help shape decisions that ensure the climate resiliency of infrastructure for decades to come.
Similarly, CCHIP is designed to provide information for agricultural and other natural resource management uses, as well as emergency management and public health applications.
Across the boards, CCHIP provides consistent access to tailored climate change information and insights previously exclusive to larger organizations with plenty of resources. Its open platform and easy-to-use web interface mean all manner of organizations, communities, and even individuals can now much more readily gain insights into past, recent and future changes in the climate conditions that matter to them.
Using CCHIP, a detailed review of the possible future impacts and hazards of climate change was conducted for CVC’s study area. The review found that the most significant climate change associated risk was the increased threat of short duration-high intensity (SDHI) rain storms. These SDHI events generally occur in the summer months, as thunderstorms. CCHIP helped characterize the changing risk to infrastructure systems posed by shifts in the conditions that spawn these storms, and the implications of numerous ‘near miss’ events having occurred close to, if not actually within, the specific sub-watershed.
Analyses of the impacts of one previous such event revealed considerable flooding, related infrastructure failure, and obstacles to emergency response. Not only do such storms impair the ability of first responders to navigate flooded streets, but the confusion they may cause among the general public can lead to a breakdown in communications, exacerbating the situation.
These SDHI events can occur at any time of the day or night during the warm season and at any location within the watershed, often with little warning. This poses a challenge not only to Emergency Management Services, including police, ambulance and fire, but also to hospitals, evacuation centres, schools, and municipal buildings.
In short, in a highly urbanized area (and one increasing in urban intensity every year), the risk of these severe storms is significant to both infrastructure and communities. In fact, SDHI rainfall events present a growing risk across the entire Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Having characterized important risks in the study area, Credit Valley Conservation and its municipal partners are now in a better position to address them, by taking actions like adjusting emergency warning and response strategies, and upgrading or introducing new flood management measures.
Phase II of the project will involve new analyses aimed at understanding the risk-reduction potential, and cost effectiveness of a range of such adaption options. As part of Phase II, CVC and partners will develop first elements of an integrated water resources risk management tool, with direct links to CCHIP. The new tool under development will enable comparative risk assessments of municipal assets and operations, human health and safety, natural values, and municipal liability, all as a function of water resources management decisions and climate change.
The release of CCHIP at a national scale will help provide organizations of all sizes and capacities with some of the same opportunities for proactive adaptation as CVC and its partner municipalities.
Never before has a climate analytical tool of this calibre been so widely available, and easy to use. We look forward to expanding on this accessibility and working with other organizations to bring the power of CCHIP to their work.