The Campbell River Rising Seas initiative in Campbell River, BC, is the 2020 winner in the climate change category of FCM’s Sustainable Communities Awards.

Located on the coast of Vancouver Island, the City of Campbell River, BC, needed to identify the risks that rising sea levels pose to its community, infrastructure and sensitive ecosystems in the area. Following extensive public education and consultation, they developed an action plan to mitigate risks that respects community values.

Sea level rise threatens community and wildlife

The coast where Campbell River is located is battered by strong ocean currents and severe winter storms, resulting in flooding and erosion along the shore. Shoreline species are at risk, as are salmon and the associated ecosystem, and downtown businesses, residential areas and City assets near the coast are also vulnerable. Although the City is located in an area of geological uplift, the rate of sea level rise is accelerating and is expected to outpace this protection. In light of these concerns, the City developed a plan to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels on the community and coastal ecosystems.

Action plan relied on extensive public consultation

To get a picture of flood risks, the City engaged coastal engineers to model extreme marine and weather conditions and factor in projected sea levels, and worked with ecological specialists to evaluate risks to shoreline ecosystems. With this information, they developed guidance for construction and development in the municipality, and identified a variety of flood mitigation measures. The City then conducted an extensive public education and engagement process that included developing primers explaining sea level rise, adaptation best practices, local options and recommended strategies. The primers were presented at a series of public participation events where the project team gathered input and identified interventions for their action plan that had the highest high community value.

The City also consulted and collaborated with the neighbouring Wei Wai Kum First Nation, since their reserve is within the flood risk area, and many potential interventions would be located partly or wholly on reserve land. Receiving buy-in from this key partner was crucial to the project’s success.

Project provides flood protection and preserves wildlife

The City’s action plan includes monitoring at-risk plant species to track sea level impacts over time, and replanting sensitive species in sites with more favourable conditions. Actions that protect the salmon habitat received the highest importance rating from residents, so addressing foreshore ecology alongside flood prevention had both environmental and social benefits. Innovative solutions include creating small bays on City property to dissipate wave energy and provide valuable foreshore habitat without creating an erosion risk. Interventions to protect infrastructure and buildings may be slightly more costly now, but will show benefits over time. For example, the seawall along a new road has been designed to be incrementally raised as required without needing to re-engineer the base.

Long-term nature of the problem makes it hard to maintain focus

Since sea-level rise is slow-moving, investments made now will mainly benefit future generations—an approach that is hard to achieve over short political cycles. To address this problem, a schedule to review and update the Rising Seas plan has been added to the City’s environmental workplan to ensure it is not forgotten.

The project was also challenged by a lack of funding at the outset, so the City conducted preliminary mapping, calculations and photography in-house, an approach that could be applied by other coastal communities with sufficient LiDAR (a digital mapping tool) or other topographic data. The City also relied on a co-op student for initial field research, particularly a detailed survey and visual record of the coastal area at risk. The preliminary work provided a sufficient assessment to pursue grant funding and hire professional coastal engineers.

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