To ensure community infrastructure continues to support the municipal services that residents rely on every day, the City of Saint John, New Brunswick follows a broad, multi-faceted approach to climate change. The approach particularly aims to reduce the risk of flooding due to increases both in sea level, and in the frequency and severity of storms.

“When it comes to climate change, municipalities can act in three areas,” says Samir Yammine, Saint John’s Manager of Asset and Energy Management. “We can adjust operations, change bylaws and make targeted capital investments. Saint John has adopted a long-term strategy that involves all three.”

Flooding is a major concern for Saint John, in large part due to its location: along the Bay of Fundy and at the confluence of the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers. In 2018, severe spring floods caused millions of dollars in damages. To minimize the potential consequences of rising waters, City Council ratified a policy to base all decisions about municipal infrastructure on current, relevant data and analysis – an approach known as asset management. Senior managers follow the policy when considering whether to replace or repair everything from water mains and sewer lines to parks, roads and more.

“We now have a process in place to map out our future needs, based on an assessment of the condition and performance of our assets, while factoring in the expected impacts of climate change,” says Samir Yammine. “It’s really about implementing a business approach to community infrastructure and to municipal services.”

FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP) supports Saint John’s climate change adaptation efforts. MCIP funding is helping the City measure, in a standardized way, the vulnerability of specific assets to climate change. It is also helping Saint John to incorporate natural features such as wetlands, rain gardens and bioswales to manage stormwater more effectively in three areas, including the city’s commercial core and a few of its lowest-income neighbourhoods. The initiative, led by the Atlantic Coastal Action Program - Saint John, will inform new urban-design guidelines and neighbourhood plans, and identify shovel-ready solutions for improved stormwater management.

An MCIP grant is also supporting a project that is using natural assets to protect the Greater Saint John Field House, a new recreation facility set to open in 2019. The Exhibition Association of Saint John, a not-for-profit, is leading the effort to build the facility, which is located in a flood-prone area. Incorporating wetlands into the site design will help to ensure that the Field House can withstand peak-precipitation events and increases in sea level.

Saint John also participates in FCM’s Climate and Asset Management Network, a group of 19 municipalities from across Canada. Participating municipalities share best practices and lessons learned as they integrate climate change into their asset management strategies and policies.

“We’ve got a long way to go yet,” says Samir Yammine, “but I’m confident that the systemic, comprehensive approach we’re following offers the best chance of success.”

© 2020 Federation of Canadian Municipalities