Living with Water: Rethinking coastal adaptation to climate change

Kees Lokman, principal investigator of the PICS Living with Water project

A major research project to help communities on British Columbia’s South Coast prepare and adapt for sea level rise and flooding has been announced today by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) based at the University of Victoria.

The $1 million, four-year “Living with Water” PICS Theme Partnership project will be led by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in partnership with Simon Fraser University, University of Waterloo, Wageningen University and West Coast Environmental Law. The Solution Seeker partners in the project include the City of Surrey, City of Vancouver, District of Squamish, Squamish Nation (Skwxwú7mesh), Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and the B.C. government. The B.C. South Coast includes the Fraser River Delta, Burrard Inlet and Squamish Delta.

PICS Executive Director Sybil Seitzinger says this diverse, multidisciplinary team is recognition that coastal flooding spans geographic and territorial boundaries, and that an integrated flood response, currently lacking, is needed.

“Climate change projections show B.C.’s South Coast could be facing sea level rise of up to one metre in the next eight decades as well as increased flood scale and frequency, with resulting risks to residents, critical infrastructures, food security, and biodiversity,” she says. “Being ready as a region is crucial, and this project will support that goal as well as potentially assist other urbanized deltas around the world.” 

Jurisdiction in coastal and nearshore areas lies primarily at provincial and federal levels, but flood protection is usually managed by local governments, says Kees Lokman, the project principal investigator and a professor at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and director of the UBC Coastal Adaptation Lab. There is no single agency that oversees coastal flood management and ecosystem conservation in an integrated way, much less consider the potential widespread impacts of sea level rise.

Lokman says current solutions focus on building dikes and seawalls to protect urban developments and agricultural lands, often at the expense of habitat conservation. 

“There is an urgent need to examine alternative solutions that support a wider range of values. Coastal ecosystems such as wetlands and salt marshes provide natural buffers against waves and flooding, provide habitat for keystone species, and support coastal livelihoods. We need to develop frameworks to help coastal communities understand and evaluate the trade-offs associated with adapting in place (reinforcing/protecting existing shorelines), accommodating water or making a strategic retreat to higher grounds.”

Living with Water will develop new planning, design, and decision-making tools to strengthen three aspects currently insufficiently addressed in the region: 1) integration of community values and Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in coastal flood risk assessment; 2) decision-support tools for emerging alternate flood adaptation solutions (e.g. managed retreat, multi-functional dikes, nature-based solutions); and 3) guidance on developing multi-level governance arrangements for regional coastal flood adaptation.

The four-year PICS research project begins this week. PICS is hosted and led by UVic in collaboration with UBC, Simon Fraser University and University of Northern British Columbia.

A media kit containing high-resolution photos, backgrounder FAQs and an explainer video is available on Dropbox

See the UVic version of this media release.


Matt Osler, project engineer at the City of Surrey: “The project will increase the likelihood that Surrey and other jurisdictions will embark on other coastal nature-based solutions by better assessing the benefits of the project and increasing awareness of flood risk.” 

Dennis Paradine, manager, Climate Science and Policy at B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development: “Living with Water addresses a key area, the coastal edge,   where climate resilience measures are not well known and communicated in British Columbia.  As the coastal edge has many layers of government each with differing jurisdiction, understanding the complex intersection of climate resilience needs and responsibilities is essential prior to effective implementation.”

Sarah Dal Santo, natural resources planning manager at Tsleil-Waututh Nation & Kathleen Edwards, environmental manager at Squamish Nation (Skwxwú7mesh): “This project integrates and respects the importance of Indigenous knowledge and stewardship values in guiding creative and effective solutions to coastal adaptation. It will foster the development of coastal adaptation solutions that reduce flood risk and enhance the integrity, health and biodiversity of coastal habitats, while addressing inequities related to Indigenous sovereignty, for example, jurisdiction, land rights, and food security.”

Angela Danyluk, senior sustainability specialist at the City of Vancouver: “The project will advance our knowledge and practice in understanding how to apply Indigenous perspectives in land-use planning, adaptation planning and public-realm design.”

Eric Balke, coordinator for the South Coast Conservation Land Management Program: “The Fraser and Squamish River deltas contain tidal ecosystems that are globally important to conservation, critical to the food security and culture of local Indigenous peoples, and help protect communities from coastal flooding. The Living with Water project will conduct much-needed research to inform decision-makers of ways to support the resilience of these important ecosystems and incorporate them into local coastal flood protection defenses for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.”

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions develops impactful, evidence-based climate change solutions through collaborative partnerships that connect solution seekers with experts from BC’s four leading research universities. The PICS Theme Partnership Program supports research on particularly complex—and critically important—climate mitigation and adaptation challenges, and develops legacy partnerships for BC and beyond. PICS is hosted and led by the University of Victoria in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Columbia.

The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s entrepreneurial spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. UBC encourages its students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.

About the University of Victoria
UVic is one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, offering life-changing, hands-on learning experiences to more than 21,000 students on the edge of the spectacular B.C. coast. As a hub of transformational research, UVic faculty, staff and students make a critical difference on issues that matter to people, places and the planet. UVic consistently publishes a higher proportion of research based on international collaborations than any other university in North America, and our community and organizational partnerships play a key role in generating vital impact, from scientific and business breakthroughs to achievements in culture and creativity. Find out more at Territory acknowledgement