Municipalities don’t have to wait for a flood to figure out where they are most vulnerable and what they can do to protect key resources, a climate change mapping expert told the recent Disaster Management Conference in Winnipeg.
Harvey Hill of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s climate decision support and adaptation unit explained the benefits that a land and infrastructure resiliency assessment could provide to rural municipalities.
It all begins with good data.
“If you do that kind of mapping in advance and create a library of maps for your local RMs across the province… then you have a really powerful tool for planning,” said Hill, adding that effective mapping can also assist municipalities when it comes to seeking financial assistance for flood mitigation projects.
Manitoba has a head start when it comes to high-quality mapping. Along with Alberta, the province leads the country in the amount of land that has been mapped using Lidar — a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to create a high-resolution, three-dimensional map.
But high-tech solutions aren’t the only answer, said Hill. The information collected from mapping should be checked against local knowledge of flooding.
“That means you’re going to have to look at your landscape, which ones are vulnerable. Ideally have some way of either using analogue events from the past or some modelling or some conversation with experts to be able to identify the kind of damage you would expect,” he said.
It also means making decisions about what rural infrastructure is most valuable.
“Some environments have lower values than others. I don’t mean that a beautiful location or individual people don’t have value, I simply mean that what a society or people are willing to invest in terms of proactive risk reduction for a pasture might be different than for a hydro dam. We can’t invest in the same levels of risk reduction in all locations,” said Hill.
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Changes in the rural tax base over the last five or six decades have also affected the amount of resources many rural communities may have to put towards flood mitigation, he said, adding that protecting the rural economy takes planning.
Hill noted that a hit to Prairie farming can easily reverberate across the globe.
When millions of acres went unseeded in 2010 and 2011, it was linked to rising food prices worldwide and even to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.
“Whatever the reason, they’re having difficulty moving grain, it affects all sorts of other factors, if affects the whole economy, so when we think about these disasters, flooding… let’s think about these things proactively, let’s think about these things systematically so that we can not only avoid loss of life and loss of homes, but also loss of opportunities,” Hill said. “Vulnerability isn’t something that’s just ahead of us, it’s here now, so what do we do? Well, we’re going to have to develop our resilience.”