By Tim Shah, ACT Intern

As a student of Community and Regional planning, I have come to learn and appreciate the value and strength of Official Community Plans (OCPs). An OCP is a policy framework for City Council that addresses issues such as housing, transportation, infrastructure, parks, economic development and the natural and social environment. Under the BC Local Government Act section 875, an OCP is “a statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management, within the area covered by the plan, respecting the purposes of local government”.

In October 2011, we blogged about the District of Elkford, which was recently featured in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) guidebook Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Options. Our first blog on Elkford discussed its holistic communication efforts in mobilizing action on climate change adaptation. Beyond the strength of its communication process, the District was the first municipality in British Columbia to successfully integrate adaptation into its OCP.

As I learned from my interview with the District of Elkford’s Chief Administrative Officer, Corien Speaker, integrating adaptation in the OCP has been a forward-looking achievement because it gives more credibility and legitimacy to adaptation actions. As an OCP is a long-range planning document, typically a 20-year planning horizon, it can outline immediate, medium, and long-term actions for implementation; in other words, a lined-up process and a roadmap on how to achieve targets. One lawyer who assisted in the process remarked that climate change is just another risk that makes communities vulnerable, and if you are not looking long-term, you are not doing a good job for planning and sustainability.

With such a document in place, there is a sound plan, including a set of targets to achieve, which acts as a planning guide for climate change adaptation. Elkford’s chief advantage over other municipalities is that climate change adaptation now becomes a centralized theme in all its planning decisions, an approach which can, among other things, foment a set of robust and comprehensive actions to address climate challenges.

Elkford’s objective is to align actions and policies with adaptation goals. Development by-laws are being revised to develop a higher density community and reduce the operational and delivery costs of utilities. Mapping the District’s aquifer is another action cited in Elkford’s OCP and while it may not happen for several years, it has been listed as an action that can help the district adapt.

As I learned from my interview, the more information you can gather through such activities as aquifer mapping, the better you can plan. Some of the District’s other adaptation actions include the requirement of on-site stormwater management techniques to alleviate flooding risk and adapting municipal by-laws to require low-flow plumbing fixtures for all new buildings to allow for water conservation. The new OCP will ensure consistency in implementation of such actions. Details are available online.

Being featured in the UNFCCC’s guidebook on assessing the costs and benefits of adaptation actions is testament to how committed the district is to climate change adaptation. While it may be some time until the actions of the OCP fully come to fruition, the District’s incorporation of climate change adaptation into the OCP is an impressive feat in and of itself. Adaptation was made relevant at the local level, and a high degree of transparency, participation and accountability has further added legitimacy to the process. I greatly hope that other communities learn from this positive success story, and follow suit on committing to action on one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century.