“Don’t be scared, be prepared,” Serge Dupuis told an audience of about 40 people in Sackville on Saturday.
The professor of civil engineering at Université de Moncton was addressing a workshop on reducing flood risk in an era of climate change and extreme weather.
Dupuis also quoted the old G.I. Joe slogan, “Now that you know, knowing is half the battle.”
It was a quick way of summing up one main message of the workshop that was jointly sponsored by his university, the town of Sackville and three environmental groups, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature NB and EOS Eco-Energy.
Dupuis said professional engineers like him are starting to use the term “a changing climate” instead of “climate change” when they’re talking about the need to adapt to more frequent extreme weather conditions. It’s a way of avoiding arguments over whether climate change is real, he added.
“Most people would say the climate is changing.” Dupuis said. “We’re seeing things that we’ve never seen before.”
He gave a recent example to prove his point — a two-day spate of extreme rainfall accompanied by all-time record high temperatures in Moncton and vicinity on January 12th and 13th.
Dupuis projected a slide showing that on January 12, temperatures reached a high of 14.3 degrees topping the previous record of 11.2 degrees in 2014.
On January 13, the temperature hit 16.7 degrees way above the 12.2 degree record set in 1972. And, 25.1 millimetres of rain fell topping the previous record of 10.2 millimetres in 1956.
As CBC reported, other parts of New Brunswick were hit with even more rain washing out roads, flooding homes and causing power blackouts.
Then on January 14, the temperature in Moncton abruptly fell to 15.2 degrees below zero turning streets and sidewalks into skating rinks.
Later during an interview, Dupuis said that such rapid fluctuations in temperature, combined with heavy rainfall, increases the flood risk for homeowners.
“If you have a nice little drainage ditch in your backyard which works great in the summer or fall, but as soon as you put a blanket of two feet of snow and it freezes up, then the rain just runs off the snow and might get to your home a lot quicker and easier where it never did before,” he said.
Who’s at risk?
Amanda Marlin, executive director of EOS Eco-Energy, asked workshop participants a rhetorical question: Who is at risk of inland flooding?
Her answer was a short one: Everyone.
“You don’t need to live close to a brook or a lake,” she said. “You can still be stranded by washed-out roads or municipal sewage can back up into your home.”
She said that she and her family live on high ground in Frosty Hollow yet still had to deal with water coming into their home.
“If the drain leading from your drain tiles gets plugged on the bottom like ours was, then the water’s going to back up and find its way in,” she said during an interview. “It going to go to the easiest spot it can find. If you have a crack in your foundation, it can find its way in.”
Marlin gave a variety of tips for avoiding flood damage including storing important items and hazardous materials up high as well as elevating furnaces, hot water heaters and fuel tanks.
She discussed the need for emergency kits as well as for food supplies and other basic items such as medicines, toilet paper and clothing, $200 in small bills, and coins for pay phones (if you can find one).
Marlin also suggested installing a water alarm in the basement, clearing snow away from around the home and making sure downspouts are at least six feet away from the foundation.
She said it would be a good idea to replace lawns near downspouts or driveways with a rain garden.
“You dig down a bit and you plant native grasses, plants, ferns, sedges and those plants are able to drink up a lot of water,” she said. “Those rain gardens just help to slow the flow of rainwater or stormwater and let it absorb naturally into the ground.”
Marlin added that rain gardens absorb 30 to 4o per cent more water than ordinary lawns.
She said that so far, EOS has planted nine of them across the region including ones in Memramcook, Dorchester, Sackville and Port Elgin.