Wednesday 9 November 2016

Blog Post 2 - Water

Climate change is such a broad topic and affects so many areas of our lives. Just one aspect of this monumental topic that I’ve extremely passionate about is water. Water is a critical part of everyone’s life: whether we think about it or not, we use it for growing food, shipping people and goods, and various industries. It’s crucial to life itself, since we’re pretty much walking, talking “bodies” of water! Having grown up on a beautiful lake in southeastern Yukon, I know how critical (and enjoyable) clean sources of water are. The lake provided more fresh water than we could ever need, tons of healthy and delicious fish and also provided a safe, clean water source for canoeing, kayaking and swimming. 

The year we definitely had way more water than we needed, at the Frances Lake Wilderness Lodge. The picnic tables are about 2 meters higher than normal lake level. (Photo: C. Altherr)

But water related issues, as a result of climate change, are becoming more and more common. Even though Canada hasn’t yet experienced water conflict caused by climate change, it is likely to affect us because of our considerable water resources.

Vast water resources in the southeast Yukon. (Photo: C. Altherr) 

      For example, in countries like Syria, conflict and water shortages are intricately linked: when water runs out, people have to move. In any diverse region, displaced people can end up in areas that are culturally very different, and this leads to conflict between the two groups. The time may come when we will have to share our resources with countries that lack water access. Canada has already welcomed many Syrian refugees displaced due to armed conflict; it is possible that we will be accommodating climate refugees in the future as well. At COP22, I’m hoping to learn about similar situations from people who have first-hand experience or have been affected by water issues as a result of climate change.

How will other people cope with issues related to water? What creative solutions have countries and cities come up with in order to adapt? The possibilities of adaptation have been persistent in my thoughts. The scale and range of adaption is quite awe-inspiring. At university I had the pleasure of taking a Coastal Geography course with the amazing Dr. Canessa. She talked about many examples of sea level related issues and solutions from around the world, and is one of the reasons I’m a complete water nerd.

Male, capital of the Maldives, is threatened by rising sea levels. (Photo: Muha)

Rising sea levels threaten to flood places like the Maldives, a series of islands in the Indian Ocean, within the next century. In response, the Maldivian government constructed a one meter-high sea wall around the entire main island (the capital, Male) to attempt to keep the ocean from turning the entire city into Atlantis. Personally, I wonder how effective this strategy is. The Maldivian government must share some of my uncertainty since its plan B is to relocate to Australia.

Artist's rendering of Boston's adaptive climate change plan. (Photo: Boston Globe)

On the other hand, adaptation works to accept the effects of a changing climate rather than resist them. Some great examples of this include Boston and Copenhagen. Boston, surrounded by water, is threatened by rising sea levels and has already experienced the dangers of flooding as numerous hurricanes have wreaked havoc on the East Coast. The city has recognized that climate change will mean an increase in these types of events, and has come up with a plan: to create a “Venice” in New England. Boston plans on converting some of its streets to canals, which will remain dry until a storm hits. These canals will then be able to store excess storm water rather than allowing the city to flood.

Enghaveparken Public Park in Copenhagen is designed as a public space that can also accommodate flood water when needed. (Photo:

Copenhagen has a similar strategy. Last summer, as part of a Sustainable Cities Field School, I met Lykke Leonardsen, the head of Copenhagen’s Climate Unit. She said that after years of severe storms overloading their sewer system, the city decided to come up with an additional method of draining excess rainfall caused by storm activity. By studying the city’s natural and man-made topography, Copenhagen determined which roads could be redesigned to act as natural “streams” to direct water back out to the ocean. Copenhagen has also modified existing parks and lakes to be able to hold storm water instead of allowing the water to flood the city.

Cloudburst boulevard design in Copenhagen. These streets are designed to store excess water in times of flooding, to prevent damage to infrastructure. (Photo: 

These new ideas coming from ocean-side cities like Copenhagen and Boston remind me that Victoria, my beloved university town, may face similar problems in the future. Although Victoria currently remains sheltered from most violent storms, I shudder to think of the entire downtown underwater if a truly big storm (combined with anticipated sea level rise) were to hit.

1 comment:

  1. interesting Plan A by the Maldives - one wonders if they are or can incorporate some Dutch innovations for keeping water away/out considering most of the Netherlands has been below sea levels for 100's of years - the opposite risk is the construction of sea walls changes the dynamics of the sea and its relationship with the shoreline - there are several sea walls in Hawaii protecting hotels, etc. where the wave action has scoured the sea bottom down to the lava where as before there was sand that the sea dragged from the shore - now the waves scour the bottom and despot the sand farther out from shore. Another factor it a seawall is the damage to the undersea reefs; however first glance at the picture of Male may indicate that the damage is already done and therefore the seawall/structures may now aid in the building or artificial replacement reefs.