Too little water, too much water, or both — climate change can lead to extreme weather swings.

Last year, farmers near Windsor, ON experienced an acute drought in early spring. In July the rain returned, along with sweltering heat waves. Two tornadoes touched down a month later, damaging homes and businesses in their path. Fall brought yet another surprise, when a torrential rainstorm deluged the region, causing nearly $108 million in flood-related damages.
Like Windsor, many communities across the country are experiencing extreme weather swings. Regions like BC’s rainforests and the Atlantic coast, which have not typically been prone to drought, will need to plan for a new normal that includes both flooding and water scarcity. Other regions will need to plan for temperature extremes, like the prolonged cold spell that caused pipes to freeze across Manitoba and Ontario, and the hot, dry conditions that fuelled a catastrophic wildfire in Fort McMurray,  AB.

The cost of water crises can be profound. In 2013, flooding in Southern Alberta caused $1.72 billion in insured damages and stranded more than 100,000 people. That same summer, an extreme rainstorm in Toronto cost $943 million. The Fort McMurray wildfire is the most expensive disaster in Canada’s history, with current estimates exceeding $3.58 billion. Developing resilient systems will be essential to controlling costs, protecting public health, and minimizing disruption. Our drinking water, wastewater, and storm water systems are vitally important investments.

Finding solutions to climate change will require collaboration and leadership

Canada’s water professionals have long recognized that it’s not a matter of if climate change’s impacts will be felt, but when and how. Close to a decade ago, Canadian Water Network created the Canadian Municipal Water Consortium, to bring Canada’s water leaders together to address these challenges. Lou Di Gironimo, the General Manager of Toronto Water and one of the Consortium members, explains: “Like many municipalities, Toronto has experienced widespread surface and basement flooding from more frequent extreme storms. Building resiliency into the existing storm drainage and sewer systems is a high priority and forms a cornerstone of Toronto’s climate change adaptation strategy. The consortium is strategically positioned to engage municipalities in the dissemination and sharing of best practices, lessons learned and new technologies, as we work collaboratively to build resiliency into municipal infrastructure.”
In May, water leaders from the Canadian Municipal Water Consortium will convene at Blue Cities 2017 to discuss proactive strategies for water management. They’ve also invited scientists, industry innovators, and utility leaders from the United States to share their knowledge and experience.

The future is going to hold some surprises, but I’m confident we can be ready. Canada’s cities are tapping into their collective experience, and leveraging science and innovation to inform the difficult decisions that need to be made. Given the uncertainty that lies ahead, we’ll need a clear picture of what we know (and don’t know) in order to make the best choices, including how we will pay for them. Armed with this information, our elected officials must lead with confidence — for the sake of our environment, our economy, and public health.