MANITOBA can no longer toy with water strategy as a boutique environmental issue handled by individual regions, cities and towns on an ad hoc basis. Instead, we must make it the core economic development issue that it is, with a plan that transcends artificially created municipal borders.
There’s strong evidence that investors are now carefully scrutinizing how seriously regions are managing climate risk. Last year, BlackRock Investments CEO Larry Fink made the point crystal clear, stating "Climate risk is an investment risk," and now requiring stringent climate-risk disclosure of the firms BlackRock invests in.
Elsewhere in the United States, insurance brokers are explicitly factoring in climate risk to property, housing, infrastructure and entire regions — advising on which states are the most "climate-change prepared."
The absence of a serious water strategy in this province is concerning. Manitoba is blessed with enough water — sometimes more than enough — only some of the time. Our climate is historically right at the transition between sub-humid and semi-arid, and the science is clear: climate change will push us toward more aridity.
The Winnipeg Metropolitan Region (WMR), which represents 18 rural municipalities, cities and towns, including Winnipeg, has been working on collaborative thinking, partnerships and leadership for a comprehensive climate-change strategy. It’s part of the Draft Plan20-50 currently under consideration by province’s minister of municipal minister relations as part of Bill 37. To a significant degree, Manitoba’s 2017 Climate and Green Plan created the political space to address climate change as a core economic-development issue.
What the WMR is doing with the draft plan is looking at climate change from a long-term and strategic perspective to determine how the region can work together for coherent policies on land use, including agriculture, water supply, watershed management, density patterns, transportation and infrastructure investment that build resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Our regional climate change strategy takes advantage of many key technological and big data advances: global climate model projections of future temperature and precipitation, the large investment in data acquisition made by the province that enables accurate, high-resolution flood risk mapping, as well as modern 3D visualization technology, to help decision-makers understand real-world risk to infrastructure and opportunities for modern, climate-resilient asset management.
We can visualize in great detail what we’ll experience in another "flood of the century." We know what major transportation corridors and which sections of towns will be underwater.
Draft Plan20-50 also recognizes our vulnerability to drought. The climate models are clear: we should anticipate more and longer-duration drought cycles in the region than we have had in the past. With many municipalities in the region reliant on surface water for potable water supply, this raises immediate concerns regarding water treatment plant operation and, once again, it supports the contention that the areas around Winnipeg are stronger when they work together.
A climate-aware regional plan bodes well for enticing investment to the WMR; investors increasingly expect a coherent long-range plan for building climate resilience as a prerequisite for their entry.
The time to act on climate change is now. But it can’t be done alone, with municipalities acting in silos. Instead, it needs to be done with a clear shared regional plan, based on evidence-based research. Draft Plan20-50, which is the result of thousands of hours of input from researchers, consultants, academics, politicians and planners, is the best remedy for what is the inevitable.
Hank Venema CEO and a senior engineer at Strategic Community Consulting Inc., which provided peer-review guidance during preparation of Draft Plan20-50.