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Follow the water: Significant concerns in Nova Scotia over infrastructure and sea level rise

ACT Water author Bob Sandford’s most recent stops on the FLOW cross-Canada tour were in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, where he heard about concerns from multiple groups including First Nations about the future of their province in terms of water and climate change – a very similar response to that Bob heard in Saskatchewan.

The rapidly changing hydrology of groundwater and surface water emerged as a major issue for Nova Scotians, who also shared concerns over the province’s ageing and poorly maintained water infrastructure – for both stormwater and wastewater – and the critical importance of amending building codes as a way to adapt to climate changes.

Particularly daunting challenges were identified in the Bras D’Or Lakes region, which is featured in a case study in ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance. Projections show that a 90cm rise in sea level could occur by 2100, affecting fresh water supply. This region is a transition zone hydrologically, climatically, and culturally.  Given the extreme variability in climate change trends and hydrology, First Nations groups in particular talked about the importance of adaptation and how it is part of their way of life. They wanted it to be noted that they are seeing an increase in extreme weather events, as projected by climate models, which require concerted action if the impacts are not to be highly disruptive to both local ecosytems and the First Nations way of life.

Just as Aboriginal people were a key driver for the Government of the Northwest Territories’ groundbreaking Northern Voices, Northern Waters water management strategy, First Nations in Cape Breton are driving the ethical direction that ACT has identified in its recent water governance recommendations as a useful approach to the future of water in Canada. First Nations experience impacts to ecosystems firsthand on a daily basis and understand the urgent need for measures that will build resilience to climate change.

Moreover, the First Nations principle of looking ahead seven generations when making decisions is an approach that would be deeply helpful if we are to meaningfully plan for our children and grandchildren’s future. First Nations in the region are cultivating young leaders to deal with this intergenerational issue. They are also promoting the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) on a parallel with western science as a basis for decision-making and ecosystem-related management and planning.

Given the province’s limited resources, and an overall absence of support from the federal government, regions such as the Bras D’Or Lakes will have to utilize both TEK and western knowledge to adapt to climate change. Encouragingly, despite problematic gaps in data and baseline monitoring of local ecosystem performance and climate change impacts, this region already has five First Nations communities and five municipalities working together on adaptation, though they feel that additional institutions may need to be created to help with this process.

This level of integration and collaboration is well captured by a First Nations saying that was shared at the presentations: “Follow the water; blow into oneness and wholeness”. Water is critical for the traditional way of life and for the future of Nova Scotia, and this region is committed to finding solutions.

Bob’s next stop on the tour is Winnipeg, Manitoba on October 17th. To follow the tour and to learn about some of the comprehensive issues related to water management in these Canadian cities, please follow the ACT blog.

Robert W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and author of ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance reports, is touring Canada speaking about water governance policy. Tim Shah, ACT PICS Water intern is reporting on Robert’s progress in this blog.

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