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MVCA is Adapting to Climate Change

The following Climate Change definition comes from Environment Canada: Climate Change is the change in climate over a time period that ranges from decades to centuries. The term refers to both natural and human-induced changes. The term “climate variability” refers to shorter term (years to decades) fluctuations in climate such as those caused by El Niño/Southern Oscillation.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”. In other words, the FCCC uses the term Climate Change to mean only those changes that are brought about by human activities. Our lives are built around the fact that although there is some variability and change from season to season and year to year, weather usually repeats in predictable patterns. As we learn more about climate change it becomes apparent that it will affect every sector of the economy because those predictable patterns are changing at a faster rate. This underlines the importance of understanding the local implications and impacts of climate change and developing local adaptive solutions.

The Mississippi River in a Changing Climate
By former MVCA General Manager Paul Lehman

What is Climate?
Senior climatologist and author David Phillips explains that “climate is what we expect but weather is what we get”. According to Environment Canada, climate normals are often used to classify a region’s climate and make decisions for a wide variety of purposes involving basic habitability, agriculture and natural vegetation, energy use, transportation, tourism, and research in many environmental fields. Normals are also used as a reference for seasonal monitoring of climate temperature and precipitation for basic public interest, and for monitoring drought or forest fires risk. Real-time values, such as daily temperature, are often compared to a location’s “climate normal” to determine how unusual or how great the departure from “average” they are. Climate also has a large influence on how local ecosystems have evolved and how we interact with them.

Watershed Facts
The Mississippi River drains an area of 3765 square kilometers at its confluence with the Ottawa River east of Arnprior.  Its area is split like this: 66% forested 19% agriculture 14% open water and wetland 1% settlement The average annual temperature across the watershed ranges from 4°C in the west to 6°C in the east. On average the watershed receives 900 mm/year of precipitation (77% rain and 23% snow). Of this, 331 mm contributes to surface water and 555 mm is lost to evapotranspiration.

How has our climate influenced the Mississippi River?
Decades of stream flow records at Appleton dating back to 1918 show how the river has responded to climatic conditions and weather events over that time. Changes of the magnitude observed in the seasonal stream flow patterns can be attributed to either large scale changes in land use or changes in climatic conditions. Since 1970, changes in land use across the Mississippi River watershed have been relatively minor and cannot account for the shifts in runoff characteristics which are being observed. In 2007, Natural Resources Canada published “From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007” which reports that the average annual temperature in Ontario has increased by as much as 1.4°C since 1948. This trend is projected to continue, with the most pronounced temperature increases occurring in winter. Projected impacts on water resources across the Great Lakes Basin are consistent with observed changes in the Mississippi River stream flows. MVC conducted an investigation, in collaboration with Queens University and the University of Guelph, to assess the impact which projected changes in climate would have on the flow regime of the Mississippi River. Three consecutive 30 year periods were modeled (2010 – 2039, 2040 – 2069 and 2070 – 2099) and compared to observed stream flow conditions between 1970 and 2000.

Watershed Implications Water Levels
The reservoir system on the Mississippi River was developed in the early 1900’s to use historic runoff characteristics of the watershed and store spring snowmelt runoff then releasing water over the summer during periods of low flow. During extended dry weather periods most of the stream flow in the Mississippi River is supplied from this stored water. With projected shifts in future runoff patterns, the length of time in which stream flows may require augmentation will exceed the capacity of the reservoir system if it is to provide the same level of augmentation as in the past. This will ultimately result in lower water levels throughout the watershed. These average or expected conditions will not be consistent and are expected to be highly variable from year to year due to a greater frequency in high intensity rainfall events.

Dr. John Casselman from Queens University also studied the effects of water temperature on fish communities in the Mississippi River watershed and across the Great Lakes Basin. Casselman reports that the average summer surface water temperature in the Mississippi River increased by approximately 1°C between 1970 to 2000,  and that it is apparent a relatively small increase in temperature is associated with a substantial increase in recruitment of warm-water species and a reduction in recruitment of cold-water species. The analysis of Mississippi River watershed data provides additional confirmation that fish community structure and dynamics are changing in association with climate warming. His research has concluded that an increase in average surface water temperature of 3°C will result in a 14.7 fold increase in the recruitment of warm water fish species with a corresponding decrease in cold species of 20.1 fold.

The Mississippi-Rideau Climate Adaptation Strategy
Looking at Changing Natural Resources in the Mississippi-Rideau Region

In its most recent climate change adaptation initiative, MVCA is joining forces with Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) in a cooperative effort to develop scientific vulnerability assessments of natural systems in the Mississippi-Rideau Region (MR region). When complete these assessments will provide scientific baseline information to natural systems managers and policy makers in the MR region in their efforts to incorporate climate change adaptation into everything from land use planning to water management. These assessments will be important tools for local decision-makers in working towards including climate change in planning within the region and will form the basis for a regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in the future.

The Mississippi and Rideau Valley Conservation Authorities recognize that climate change vulnerability assessments are a rapidly evolving area of practice and agree that this approach will help to establish where and how their areas of jurisdiction are vulnerable to climate change and what might be done to avoid negative impacts and benefit from positive ones. MNRF has a mandate to help Ontarians Adapt to Climate Change. Its guiding document, Sustainability in a Changing Climate: A Strategy for the Ministry of Natural Resources (2011-2014) outlines the imperative for action on climate change and identifies adaptation strategies as a key priority for action highlighting the use of climate scenarios and vulnerability analyses to develop and employ adaptive solutions to current and emerging issues.

1. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Aquatic Ecosystems in the MR Region The first completed vulnerability assessment is a ground-breaking scientific report assessing how rivers, lakes, and wetlands in the Mississippi and Rideau watersheds may be affected by climate change has been completed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), and the Mississippi and Rideau Valley Conservation Authorities (MVCA and RVCA).

2. The Future Water Budget Projections in Mississippi Rideau Watershed Region study is a technical study, supported by Natural Resources Canada, which compares future climate from the different Global Climate Model (GCM) scenarios and projects future water budget parameters in the region. The study provides technical methodologies for developing localized climate projections and water budget projections for both the Mississippi and Rideau watersheds. This information is critical for numerous reasons will help us better understand the uncertainties and extremes in weather which are projected for the future and which ultimately may influence water management decisions in the watersheds.

This release entitled “Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Aquatic Ecosystems in the Mississippi and Rideau Conservation Authority Watersheds” is the first of a series of studies which are the foundation for the Mississippi-Rideau Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, a three year cooperative project based on the Mississippi-Rideau Watershed Region (MR Region). The MNRF, RVCA, and MVCA have partnered to develop a number of vulnerability assessments which will provide vital scientific baseline information on the impacts of climate change in the MR Region. This initial vulnerability assessment identifies a trend of increased water temperatures in lakes, rivers, and wetlands, and changing precipitation patterns. These patterns are projected to result in changing water levels regionally and significantly increase vulnerability for all three ecosystems from the year 2040 onward. The report also provides recommendations for next steps including identifying further areas of study and how to begin reducing the impacts of these changes to protect the future of local aquatic resources.