Living with Water: Rethinking coastal adaptation to climate change

Researcher retrieving data at Roberts Bank of the Fraser River estuary which encompasses intertidal, nearshore sub-tidal and salt marsh environments. Photo credit: Eric Balke

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 other leading universities, municipalities, legal experts, Squamish Nation (Skwxwú7mesh), Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the BC government.  The BC 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 BC’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. 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.”
Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of PICS  

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.”
Kees Lokman, project principal and professor at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture 

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. 

Additional Quotes 

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 BC 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.

-- 30 --


Media contacts

Robyn Meyer (PICS Communications) at 250-588-4053 or

Lou Corpuz-Bosshart (UBC Media Relations) at 604-999-0473 or

Jennifer Kwan (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-7641 or

In this story

Keywords: climate, community, environment, government, research, sustainability, water, PICS

People: Sybil Seitzinger

Related stories