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Residents get wise about changing climate

District of Sparwood staff, CBT representative  and expert speakers Dr. Mel Reasoner and Dr. Hans Schreier take a moment for a photo. - J.Jensen
District of Sparwood staff, CBT representative and expert speakers Dr. Mel Reasoner and Dr. Hans Schreier take a moment for a photo.
— image credit: J.Jensen

Sparwood residents  recently had the unique opportunity to learn and discuss all aspects of climate change and natural disasters,  learning what they, and the District could do about it. Residents were invited to ask questions, share ideas and provide input on how community members and  the District could work together to adapt to climate change.  Approximately 40 residents and special guests  including District of Elkford Councillors attended the event.

Hosted by the District of Sparwood,  the seminar titled Fires Floods Ice and Storms invited the public to listen and learn as highly renowned speakers discussed topics of climate  change, how to mitigate risks and prepare for impacts. Following the experts presentation, in an open house format guests had the opportunity to speak District staff and learn of programs and projects already underway in Sparwood.

The first speaker, Dr. Mel Reasoner a climate scientist and geologist spoke of climate change, warming temperatures and the massive impact they are having on the globe. "We see a steady temperature increase and an increase in mean temperature. The variance is very noisy and this is a long term trend. What is worrying is the extremes, the increase in natural catastrophes. In March of this year, the United States experienced a massive heat wave, pushing many areas into a state of emergency due to drought. This was a case of an extreme anomaly with extreme consequences," he said.  Dr. Reasoner also spoke of incidents that were closer to home, with rapidly receding glaciers, overwhelming storm water issues in Kaslo and Nelson as well as the wildfire that ripped through Slave Lake. "In this area, our fuel load is much higher than it was in Slave Lake, to me a community that can withstand a forest fire will be the one who is sustainable," he said.  Dr. Reasoner explained that prediction is difficult, and while climate change and temperature increase is occurring, people might as well take advantage of it. "We will see more frost free days, less heating days and longer growing seasons. The average snowfall could be expect to decrease by 50% in the future," he says.

Dr. Hans Schreier,  UBC Professor and Hydrologist, spoke next. He commended both the  District of Sparwood and the District of Elkford  for what they are doing in the area of climate change and mitigating impacts due to climate change. "I have travelled the world, and what you are doing here is at the forefront," he said. His presentation played heavily on the topics of tradition vs. innovation and the various ways the simple changes can make huge impacts on the environment and a communities capability to deal with disasters, especially flooding. Dr. Shcreier also spoke of the huge amount of water used by people in communities within the Columbia Basin. "In cases, over 48% of pure, drinkable water is used by a residence for watering their lawn. This can be completely reduced by simply using a roof water harvesting system," he said. He as well mentioned that natural disasters are inevitable, and he strongly reminded everyone to ensure they are prepared for an emergency, and can survive for 72 hours in the event of natural disaster or other emergency.

Following the presentations, District of Sparwood staff were on hand and eager  to answer questions and share information on what safety plans and projects are happening within the District. Danny Dwyer, Director of Engineering and Approving Officer and Mel Bohmer Director of Operations replied to the question on how the District is dealing with climate change and its effects, "We are using the most forward thinking we can, and continuously working towards adaptation and mitigation in various ways." They each spoke of the steps that are being taken to preserve and minimize water consumption through leak detection, water quality and supply monitoring, the  water metering program, as well as the Water Smart Ambassador program and rebates for water saving such as the low flow toilet rebate.

Duane Lawrence Director of Community and Facility Services  and Jim Jones Fire Chief addressed those who had questions regarding wildfires and fuel loads. "We just recently mitigated four areas that were classified as high risk," said Lawrence. "What we are trying to do is reduce the chance of a wildfire coming into the community and creating structure fires, by creating buffer zones and getting rid of floor fuels," he said.

Raeleen Manjack Director of Corporate Services spoke of several other initiatives the District is working on and sees positive and continuous dedication to the District becoming more prepared for climate change and the possible dangerous effects of disasters.  "We've seen the devastation in communities following major forest fires and floods, and we've been taking steps to mitigate our risks and prepare our community because we know we share many of the same challenges," says Mayor Lois Halko. "Were working with the Columbia Basin Trust Communities Adapting to Climate Change Initiative to develop a plan that ensures we have resources and strategies in place to address each critical risk area to help keep our community safe," she said.

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