Waterloo to get wetter

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In fall 2014, UW&rsquo;s Integrated Centre for Climate Change (ICCC) began to work on a report examining the impacts of long-term climate change in the Waterloo Region. The study found that extreme weather incidences are about to become far more common.</p>

Titled City of Kitchener: Climate Action Plan — Terms of Reference, the report examines the development of regional weather over the next few decades, predicting that by 2050, rainfall will be a major concern as freezing rain incidences will increase by 40 per cent and general rainfall will increase in both severity and frequency. Complementing this will be a likelihood for heavy winds and storms. There’s also expected to be 32 more days with extreme heat — weather above 30 degrees — triple what is experienced currently. By 2080, the number of extreme heat events will once again double.

“We are in for some degree of climate change from now until 2050. However much we decide to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by, some level of adaptation will likely be necessary,” said Chris Fletcher, a co-author of the report and assistant professor in geography and environmental management. “This report acts to start the conversation with municipalities on how they might think about adapting their infrastructure and operations to adapt to the changing climate.”

Initiated by Cambridge, Waterloo, and Kitchener, this report cost roughly $20,000. For Robyn McMullen, the environmental planner for the City of Waterloo, the partnership with UW on this project seemed natural. “There’s broad recognition that we’ve got a local resource and local expertise and it makes a lot of sense to tap into it.”

Ultimately, as the project progresses it will serve as a guiding tool to help municipalities better tailor future services. 

“Climate change is happening. Conditions are changing. And everything from the programs, to the services we offer, to our policies, to our assets, to the infrastructure that’s in the ground or on the ground, that all has the potential to be impacted. So we need to understand what’s vulnerable, what’s at risk, and how to best mitigate and reduce that risk,” said McMullen.

As weather patterns become more intense, certain populations will face greater challenges. As co-author and associate director at ICCC Sarah Brown explained, those experiencing homelessness or the elderly would face particular difficulty. Services currently in effect to assist those populations would need to adapt. An example of this would be instating more community cooling centres. 

“The science in that area is starting to draw some general connections, but what’s really most important is the way that we as a society perceive or feel vulnerable when these extreme events happen,” said Brown. In the last two or three years, the Region of Waterloo has experienced a few incidents of summer windstorms or bad ice storms. “[These] kind of [events] alert us or wake us up to to some of the costs that are associated with cleaning up after these storms and some of the vulnerabilities that we experience when these things happen.”

While this report examines the changes in climate, it’s hard for Brown to conclusively speculate on how it will change the landscape of Waterloo. Come the next phase of this initiative, titled the Adaption Plan, Waterloo intends to better outline what possible changes could be made. 

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