By Stephen Petrick
A thorough document which details how Haliburton County should re-imagine infrastructure, recreational and health initiatives to cope with changing climate will now guide municipal planning.
It’s a needed plan, given that the county is already experiencing more extreme weather events, such as extreme heat days, storms and droughts, all of which threaten the amicable, rural lifestyle the region is known for.
The county’s Corporate Climate Change Adaptation Plan received final approval at council’s April 13 virtual meeting, meaning the plan will be shared with the county’s four municipalities; Dysart et al, Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Minden Hills.
The report’s approval was anti-climatic, as a motion to accept it passed with no debate or comments, other than offers of congratulations to Haliburton climate change co-ordinator Korey McKay.
However, it was a monumental moment, given that Haliburton County leaders have considered climate change implications with almost every move they’ve made for several months, dating back to McKay’s hiring in 2019. Typically, every request for action that comes to the Haliburton County council table, lists how the decision could impact climate change.
The plan lists specific actions the county should take on infrastructure, recreation, health and strategic planning. For example, under infrastructure, action plan 1.3 calls for municipalities to “incorporate green infrastructure and low impact development including permeable pavement, green roofs, rain gardens, and native plants on municipal properties.”
Under recreation, action plan 4.1 asks municipalities to “identify public spaces that are at risk of flooding, washouts or oversaturation and prioritize additional drainage measures.”
Under health, action 8.1 says municipalities should “continue to use municipal facilities to provide support during extreme weather events” and “consider expanding the number of buildings and hours of operation for cooling and warming centres, or emergency sites during overland flooding and power outages.”
The executive summary of the plan notes that “although climate change is occurring globally, the impacts are felt at the local level. The County of Haliburton is experiencing more extreme weather, prolonged heatwaves, flooding events, and milder winters, among other impacts.”
The plan stated that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, following a long-term warming trend since pre-industrial levels and that “Haliburton County can expect to see a 2.2 C rise in the mean temperature in the immediate future (2021-2050) and 4.4 C rise in the near future (2051-2080).”
On the topic of rain, the plan says “a warmer climate stimulates the evaporation of water and allows the atmosphere to hold more moisture. This results in a more intense hydrological cycle, with rainfall concentrated in more extreme events with longer dry spells in between.”
“Haliburton can expect to see 1,044 millimetres of rain in the immediate future (2021- 2050) and 1,078 millimetres in the near future (2051-2080), compared to a baseline of 981 millimetres.”
Yet, because climate change leads to extreme weather events, projections also call for long dry spells when it’s not raining. This will also mean that water levels in rivers and lakes will fluctuate greatly. “Overall we can expect to see higher highs and lower lows,” the plan says.
County staff intend for the plan to be a “living document” that is updated based on changes in available information, data, funding and staffing resources.
“This plan is only the start of a process that will require action across all departments and embedding adaptation into operational culture,” it says.