4.8 The Bay of Fundy and the tides of climate change

3.3 Development of the community viewer and public participation

Given the risk of flooding in the Tantramar area, the Geospatial Modelling Lab of Mount Allison University decided, with the support of the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund, to develop a web-based decision support software tool called the “Tantramar Community Adaptation Viewer” (TCAV) (Lieske et al., 2014). The TCAV was developed in collaboration with the community over the course of three facilitated groups. The participants were members of Town council, engineers, emergency measures personnel, planners, dyke managers, associations and community service providers. The research questions underlying the collaborative research were:

  1. What locations do expert stakeholders consider to be the most vulnerable to flooding?
  2. What makes these locations vulnerable?
  3. What areas do expert stakeholders identify to be adaptation “priority zones”?
  4. What are potential adaptation strategies for lowering vulnerability in these zones?

At first, a prototype of the TCAV was constructed, which combines physical infrastructure, social vulnerability and environmental information. The TCAV supports the creation of hypothetical planning zones, for which costs and benefits can be evaluated for different scenarios and rankings established. Then, three sessions of facilitated groups were held with specific objectives (table 5).

Table 5 : Objectives and results of the facilitated group sessions

Session Objective Result
1 Exploration of the concepts of vulnerability and resilience Need for an ongoing dialogue about flood risk vulnerability. Need for a political leadership, proactive planning, effective emergency response.
2 Identification of locations with special flood risks 5 main adaptation planning zones identified Total economic exposure of $6,470,000 for a 1:10 years event under current sea level, $13,475,000 in 2100.
3 Exploration of flood-risk tolerance and formulation of recommendations Flood-risk tolerance is low for events affecting homes directly. 70% of respondents are unwilling to tolerate a 1:100 year flood, 90% a 1:50 year flood, hence a 1:100 year flood should govern the planning scenarios. 23 recommendations formulated, concerning governance, dyke maintenance, municipal planning, risk preparedness, changes in land use reflecting the risk level, public communication and dialogue, inclusion of freshwater flood risks, rethinking of drainage systems, extension of the TCAV and making it available to other New Brunswick communities.

Source: data from Lieske et al. (2014)

The discussion around the concepts of vulnerability and resilience yielded many insights of a global and local nature and raised a number of issues related to the adaptation and future development of the community. The social aspects of vulnerability were mentioned, and included the low levels of education and awareness, an attitude of acceptance versus denial, and the question of leadership in the community.

The second phase allowed to identify specific areas at risk, starting with the dykes and the sewage lagoon and railway built adjacent to the dyke. Vulnerable public infrastructure includes the public works department, which is in a low lying area, the street network which would likely cut off certain areas from town from the emergency services in the case of a flood, Mount Allison University’s heating plant which is in a location vulnerable to freshwater flood, natural gas lines and sewage systems and the risk of service interruption. The interaction with the group allowed to improve the level of information of the maps. Thus, participants who knew the position of eroded portions of the dyke could indicate them on the map, upon which they were digitized and included in the database. On the human side, residents with mental and physical disabilities residing in flood-prone zones or use facilities such as childcare centers, special care, the food bank, are especially vulnerable.

The questionnaire distributed in the course of the final meeting yielded some important insights. As Sackville has not had any recent floods, most participants did not have first-hand experience of such an event. The information elements which respondents judge to be the most compelling were: 1) An archival photo of a past flood in Sackville (e.g. the flood of 1962) (7 respondents), 2) an estimated flood map for Sackville (5 respondents), 3) A picture of people affected by a serious recent flood somewhere else in Canada (1 respondent), 4) An economic figure, such as the losses from a 1:10 year event (0 respondents). It follows that visual information is much more effective in conveying the reality of an extreme weather event, and that a local context allows people to relate to a much higher degree to the information presented.

As far as the willingness to accept different levels of damage, events which directly affect the owner’s property (water reaching the first floor, flood in the basement, sewage back-up) were the least tolerated (0-2 respondent), compared to temporary inconveniences (home cut off from town on a neighbourhood “island”, loss of electricity, interruption of sewage services) which were tolerated by more than half of the participants (8-13 respondents). On a household level, the participants had partly adopted certain measures to prepare for floods or flood-proof their house. However, none of the participants indicated that they planned to move out of the flood plain. In another question, 11 of 16 participants indicated that they had to accept flood occurrences because they lived in a flood prone area. This is an interesting result as it shows that residents are aware of the flood risk and accept it in an abstract sense, yet are unwilling to accept consequences of a flood that specifically affects their property. The frequency of flooding is important in the willingness of residents to accept it. No respondent was willing to accept a flood event occurring every year or every other year, the rest of the answers lies between every 5 to every 100 years (and 2 respondents none at all). The willingness to pay for dyke maintenance was 69 $ ± 83 $.

The project has had an impact on the Tantramar region. Several stakeholders, among the CN Rail, several local institutions, representatives from business, have become involved in the dialogue on flood safety and mitigation. The 23 recommendations formulated by the workgroup can serve as a useful basis for those ongoing discussions. The TCAV can also be actively used as a decision support tool, and adaptation planning zones, that is, particularly vulnerable areas, have already been identified during the facilitated group sessions (figure 31).

The polygons defined during each of the six sessions merged into contiguous units.

Figure 31. The polygons defined during each of the six sessions merged into contiguous units.

Source: Lieske et al. (2014)