Last week I attended a daylong workshop on climate resilience organized by Columbia Basin Trust’s Communities Adapting to Climate Change Initiative. It was an interesting day, and not only because of the convincing information we were given.
On the surface, local data about climate change doesn’t seem that convincing. Creston is one of a handful of B.C. communities that has reliable weather data for more than a century, and the average temperature has only increased by about two degrees. Step outside and odds are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in a two-degree swing in temperature.
But the cumulative effects appear to be significant. We also saw data indicating a more dramatic increase in “sudden” weather events, notably huge downpours of rain in a very short time. These 100-year storms, as they were once referred to, are now occurring each 20 years or less. Ten-year or 20-year events of the past might be annual now.
So how does that affect us locally? Well, for one it means that governments have to revisit their infrastructure plans. Storm sewer systems that worked until recently — except for those 100-year storms — now might be more regularly found to be incapable of handling heavy downpours. We have seen more and more rainfalls in recent years at our home where the top of the paved area of 16th Avenue North becomes a river that drags gravel down from the unpaved road further up. The water literally flows right overtop the storm sewer grates. Of course when the system can’t absorb the heavy rainfall, properties are flooded and the damage can be significant.
Changes in the way snow packs at higher elevations form were also noted. An increase in freeze-thaw cycles creates more instability in the snowpack, increasing the likelihood of avalanches, as top layers tend to slide off lower ones.
There are many downsides to climate change, of course. But I was pleased to hear the facilitators tell us that our group was unique among communities where this workshop was previously held. Our focus, on the whole, was positive. We saw our abundance of water availability, especially for agriculture, as a plus. We certainly have the potential to store water in the spring so that it will be ready for use in the drier summer months.
It is really our agriculture that sets us apart. With a large part of our Creston Valley capable of producing food products, we have options that other communities simply don’t. And no doubt our 17,000 acres of wetlands is another of our strengths.
Late in our session, I sat at a table whose assignment was to discuss agriculture and we were lucky to have the Town of Creston’s new planner, Jamai Schile, working here on a contract to oversee a new Official Community Plan, contributing with us. She is extremely knowledgeable about agricultural issues and how they relate to community planning, having written her master’s thesis on a related topic.
Listening to her contributions, I began to fantasize about how great it would be to have a Creston Valley planner who could work with the greater community to envision a future that adapts to changes in not only climate, but population and land use. And I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to do an agricultural land use study that identifies and maps the best potential use of each piece of agricultural land in the valley. What a great tool that could be for landowners who are unaware of what opportunities their land might hold! Instead of doing the same old same old, or nothing at all, such a mapping tool could encourage people to look at land from an entirely different perspective. It could be of great value to aging owners who are looking to sell, allowing them to promote their land not just on its traditional use, but its potential.
We have some interesting options as we look forward. If we get caught up in gloom and doom mode, that’s exactly what we will get. But if we can see that new opportunities will also be possible, we can get to work sooner rather than later. Working toward something is always better than sitting back and waiting for something to happen.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.