If you ask Duane Nicol about the City of Selkirk’s plan to adapt to climate change, the chief administrative officer will say it’s nothing flowery — and that is exactly the intent.
"We’re trying to make climate-change adaptation boring," Nicol said from his office, approximately 30 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
"We need to make it part of our routine. Routine gets done."
Selkirk recently finalized an ambitious 10-year plan to prepare for the local consequences of a warmer and more chaotic climate. Believed to be among the first of its kind, the detailed, tailor-made strategy outlines the coming changes and how the city plans to take immediate action to adapt.
In collaboration with the Prairie Climate Centre, city staffers met with climate scientists to figure out how Selkirk’s changing seasons will affect municipal infrastructure and services and what the city can do to mitigate the impact on the approximately 10,268 people who call it home.
Being the largest commercial centre in the Interlake, Selkirk is also a regional hub for more than 70,000 people.
Be it the city’s heating and cooling budget, urban tree conservation or purchasing new vehicles, Nicol said the default setting for day-to-day municipal business has to be adaptive from now on.
A year in the making, the 57-page report has put the Manitoba community on the map as a leader in climate preparedness. It has also earned Selkirk a prestigious award from the Canadian Network of Asset Managers, as well as a visit from then-federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
Ian Mauro, executive director of the Prairie Climate Centre, said the success of the project can be found in the team’s ability to link climate change to meat-and-potatoes issues for the community.
Much like the rest of the province, the centre's Climate Atlas of Canada predicts Selkirk will see shorter, warmer and wetter winters. The city can also expect hotter summers, with 14 more days reaching 30 C or above every year — reaching 23 "very hot days" as early as 2021, up from the 1976-2005 average of nine.
The city, which is on an aquifer, is also bracing for an increase in water shortages with sporadic, albeit more extreme, rainfall events predicted in the coming summers.
When Selkirk staff got thinking about their summers heating up, the conversation turned to using solar panels to harness energy, the need to open respite spaces for vulnerable residents and the importance of shade.
"The No. 1 thing that happens to these adaptation plans is that they sit on shelves," Mauro said. "Selkirk is committed to that not happening."
City staffer Justin Torcia spent the summer assessing the vital statistics of trees on public streets, boulevards and back lanes as part of Selkirk’s tree-inventory program.
"It gives me a greater appreciation for the trees," Torcia said, adding that he, alongside two others, catalogued 4,800 of them in 2019.
A product of the adaptation strategy, the inventory will help Selkirk determine how healthy its canopy is and plan for a more diverse forest that can fend off invasive pests and provide shade as temperatures climb.
"That’s the silver lining of climate change," Mauro said. "Climate change can force us to make our communities cleaner, greener and healthier."
Selkirk’s strategy notes that the future of the city’s seasons isn’t crystal clear. At the same time, it states the absence of "full scientific understanding" should not postpone action when there is "the potential of serious irreversible complications."
"If municipalities don’t start doing this, they’re just negligent," said Nicol.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.