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3.3 Integrating Adaptation into Water and Watershed Planning – Some Examples

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How can my community integrate climate science and adaptation into water and watershed planning to help prepare for, and manage the impacts of climate change?

Minimizing vulnerabilities and managing climate-related risks are only two of a number of criteria considered in water and watershed planning processes.

In many cases, climate change exacerbates existing management challenges, such as water shortages, water use conflicts, protecting water quality and managing natural hazards. Therefore, when adaptation is integrated into water and watershed plans, consideration must be given to the degree to which climate change is compounding those problems and to how strategies and responses need to be refined to address additional pressures related to climate change.

The ways in which adaptation is integrated into water and watershed planning will be influenced somewhat by the scope and detail of a particular plan. For example, if the plan presents broad goals and objectives, references to climate change adaptation may be general. However, if very specific targets and strategies are identified, the climate change scenarios, impacts, vulnerabilities and risks should inform those targets and strategies. The following are a few examples of how plans can be informed by considering climate change:

  • A water conservation or drought management plan would be informed by future climate scenarios of drought events or water shortages rather than by historical levels of drought (e.g., an increased frequency and severity of drought).
  • A stormwater, drainage, or flood management plan would be informed by current hydrological information and by an understanding of how the hydrological regime is anticipated to shift in response to climate change.
  • A drinking water protection plan would be informed by information and knowledge about all possible threats to water quality, including climate-related impacts such as increased peak flows and turbidity.

3.3.1 Managing Water Supply and Demand

For communities concerned with managing water supply and demand, some key questions about climate change include:

  • Is the overall community water supply likely to increase or decrease?
  • Is drought likely to become more or less frequent and severe in the region?
  • How is climate change likely to affect the timing and volume of flows in local and regional streams and rivers that supply the community, including the timing and magnitude of peak (flood) and low (drought) flows?
  • How is climate change going to affect other sources of water in the community, such as lakes, human-made reservoirs and groundwater sources?
  • How is climate change likely to affect the volume of water storage in the community?
  • How is climate change going to effect the amount, rate and timing of reservoir or aquifer recharge?
  • What businesses are highly dependent on a stable supply of quality water?
  • In what ways will water users in the area be vulnerable to reduced water supply?
  • Will local water supply infrastructure be more or less vulnerable to damage as a result of climate change?
  • How is climate change—and in particular warmer, drier summers—likely to affect local and regional demand for water?
  • How is climate change likely to affect nearby aquatic ecosystems, and what implications does this have for the available supply of water for human use?

The following are some examples of how climate change impacts can be considered and integrated into the development, implementation and/or update of plans aimed at managing water supply and demand:

  • In regions where climate change is likely to reduce water supply, targets for water conservation may need to be higher than in regions where water supply is likely to remain stable.
  • In regions where climate change is likely to result in more frequent and severe drought events, there may be a greater urgency to develop drought management plans, and the definition of drought stages, triggers and responses may be informed by climate science. Some regions will need to plan for more aggressive drought preparedness and response than in regions where drought frequency and severity are not likely to change considerably. Communities should prepare to become more resilient to the expected and unexpected impacts of climate change.
  • In regions where climate change is likely to result in increased air temperatures and/or reduced precipitation (particularly in the summer), increased irrigation may occur. This will lead to increased agricultural and household water demand. These forecasted water demands need to be considered when:
    • planning for population growth or management;
    • planning for future agricultural activity;
    • planning for future industrial, economic or other activities in a region that may place demands on water resources;
    • assessing the potential effectiveness of different water conservation measures and/or drought responses; and,
    • understanding the socio-economic impacts of drought responses.
  • In regions where climate change is likely to reduce water supply, the total amount of water available for all human and instream environmental uses will be impacted. Therefore, Water Use Plans and Water Allocation Plans should consider future climate scenarios, including hydrological and water supply projections.
  • Because Water Use Plans focus on the operation of water storage facilities, it may be appropriate to consider how operations can prepare for and manage climate-related impacts, such as supporting instream flows during periods of low summer flows.
  • Periodically, regional water managers may require a Water Allocation Plan to be reviewed. This is an ideal opportunity to integrate climate change considerations into the plan, if they are not already included.

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3.3.2 Protecting Drinking Water Quality

For communities concerned with protecting drinking water quality, some key questions about climate change include:

  • How is climate change likely to affect the parameters of water quality, including temperature, turbidity, water-borne pathogens and increased concentrations of pollutants during periods of low stream flows?
  • Will climate change result in increased frequency and/or magnitude of flooding, landslides, erosion, turbidity, sedimentation and how will these incidents impact water quality?
  • Will warmer water temperatures degrade water quality by improving conditions for water-borne pathogens?
  • Is damage to water infrastructure (i.e. a secure water system) likely to increase or decrease as a result of climate change through flooding, erosion or other hazards?
  • Will sea level rise increase the likelihood of saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers that provide drinking water?
  • Will climate change act in concert with other pressures (such as population growth, contamination and land use change) to intensify impacts to water quality?

The following are some examples of how climate change impacts can be considered and integrated into the development, implementation and/or update of plans aimed at protecting drinking water quality:

  • In regions where groundwater wells are located in floodplains and where flood frequency or severity is likely to increase as a result of climate change, there may be increased risk of contamination of groundwater if flood waters carrying contaminants enter wellheads. Therefore, Well (Aquifer) Protection Plans should consider this risk to groundwater quality and implement protection measures.
  • Well (Aquifer) Protection Plans should consider future climate projections and the potential impacts of climate change on water supply.
  • Assessment Response Plans and Drinking Water Protection Plans should be based on information and knowledge about all possible threats to water quality, including climate-related threats such as increased peak flows and turbidity, increased water temperature and associated impacts on water-borne pathogens.
  • In regions where climate change is likely to result in reduced water supplies, water shortages, or more frequent and severe drought events, Drinking Water Protection Plans and Assessment Response Plans should consider future climate scenarios, including hydrological and water supply projections.

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3.3.3 Integrating Water, Land and Watersheds

For communities concerned with integrated and/or watershed approaches to planning, some key questions about climate change include:

  • See all questions listed above for Managing Water Supply and Demand as well as Protecting Drinking Water Quality.
  • Will hydrological changes adversely impact fish and aquatic ecosystems?
  • Will warmer temperatures change lake ecology and affect water quality? For example, will there be a change in thermal regimes and lake mixing, with resulting effects on productivity and water quality?
  • In what ways will changes to terrestrial ecosystems (e.g. forests, grasslands, alpine ecosystems) influence watershed health?

The following are some examples of how climate change impacts can be considered and integrated into the development, implementation and/or update of plans aimed at integrating water, land and watersheds:

  • See all questions listed above for Managing Water Supply and Demand as well as Protecting Drinking Water Quality.
  • A water or watershed management plan would be based on information and knowledge about all possible impacts to water quantity, timing and flows as well as threats to water quality, including climate-related threats such as increased peak flows and turbidity.
  • A rainwater, stormwater, or liquid waste management plan would be based on current hydrological information as well as an understanding of how the hydrological regime is anticipated to shift in response to a changing climate.

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READ MORE ABOUT:
PREPARING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACTS 

About Rethinking our Water Ways

This website is a guide to help BC communities learn more about planning for local watersheds and water resources, navigate current planning processes, consider relevant issues and challenges — including regional climate change impacts —  and build capacity to develop and implement plans.

Acknowledgements

The Rethinking our Water Ways guide and website are possible thanks to funding support from the BC Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Canada's Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program. The guide and website were launched and distributed through a series of regional workshops throughout BC, with funding contributions from the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program, Environment Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. Learn more about our funders and advisors.

We want to hear from you

Share your suggestions for this website, and ideas for future water workshops, with:

Steve Litke
Senior Program Manager
T: 604 488-5358
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About the Fraser Basin Council

Rethinking our Water Ways is an initiative of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a charitable non-profit society that advances sustainability in the Fraser River Basin, across BC, and beyond. Established in 1997, FBC brings people together from multiple sectors to learn about sustainability and find collaborative solutions to current issues. Learn more about FBC by visiting www.fraserbasin.bc.ca.