Our hearts go out to all those impacted by the recent deluge in British Columbia across the Lower Mainland in the wake of the recent atmospheric river in BC that flooded entire cities across the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver. Forcing thousands of people from their homes and stranding many, fatalities are beginning to be reported. The damage it has caused to infrastructure is extensive, destroying sections of BC's major highways and water treatment plants, leaving many communities cut off from essential services, causing the province to declare a State of Emergency.
As global temperatures rise, so do our waters. This is evident in Southern BC as we increasingly bear witness to the deadly outcomes of climate change. As we extend our gratitude to the emergency services workers and volunteers helping those impacted by the flooding, we also reflect on the importance of climate resilience in the face of climate change and its consequences.
Just months ago we faced the deadliest heat wave in all of Canadian history, and experienced long periods of drought conditions and forest fires. Now, some communities have just seen their single-day rainfall records shattered. These instances of climate chaos will only grow more frequent as our planet warms. It is clear that we must prioritize climate resilience in our infrastructure decisions in order to prepare for and mitigate the staggering risks these weather events pose to human health and safety.
Sewage has bubbled to the surface across at least 19 Metro Vancouver locations, and in Merritt, the entire wastewater facility was swamped as rising floodwaters overwhelmed the town. Roughly 7,000 residents of the City of Merritt were evacuated Monday morning after rising floodwaters knocked out the town's wastewater facility leading to what city officials are calling an "immediate danger to public health and safety.” Continued habitation of the community without sanitary services presents risk of mass sewage back-up and personal health risk.
Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate. Extreme weather events have shown us that climate adaptation is an essential component of any comprehensive climate action program because human-caused climate change is both a global and a community or local issue. Examples include investing in green infrastructure networks to absorb water pressure from runoff before it flows into nearby streams or overwhelms storm drains and treatment plants, and upgrades to water treatment plants with larger capacity and better filtration technology.
We imagine a future where continued improvements to British Columbia’s climate mitigation and adaptation infrastructure mean we are better able to withstand the ever-more-frequent storms coming our way. Climate resilience is not just about sea level rise; it's public health, it's disaster planning, it's water quality.
Metro Vancouver is currently in the process of updating their wastewater management infrastructure through a Liquid Waste Management Plan revision to focus on resilience. The current emergency highlights the necessity of climate change adaptation infrastructure that protects public health and safety. There is an opportunity to engage and participate in the public process to ensure resilience in a time of climate emergency and foreseeable continued flooding pressuring vulnerable infrastructure. Share your thoughts on the new plan, and stay safe.
Lauren Brown Hornor, Vancouver Waterkeeper
Sadie Caron, Fraser Riverkeeper