To what extent must Town of Brome Lake adapt to a climate that is increasingly unpredictable?

TBL’s General Manager, Gilbert Arel, discussed with Tempo the impact of climate changes on the town, its citizens, its environment, its finances and its services.

Tempo: Does the Town already feel the effects of climate changes?

G. A. Yes, I’d say over the last three years. We are experiencing more sudden major rainstorms, enormous downpours, sometimes with heavy winds, which damage our infrastructures. It’s not the quantity of water that counts. But when we receive a lot of rain in a short period, coupled with power outages, our equipment, pumps and generators are not capable of managing all that water.

In winter we have other problems. This winter we have already spread 20% of our salt reserves before mid-December. This is new; it’s due to more frequent temperature variations during winter: cold periods, followed by warm spells, rain and then more cold periods. Ice forms everywhere, and we have to intervene more often.

Tempo: What were the effects of the rainstorms and power outages last November?

G. A. The major impact was the collapse of the bridge on Fulford road. Without the heroic efforts of one of our firemen, a young man, stuck in his car in the crevice, would have lost his life and been borne away by the river current. In the past we would have rebuilt the bridge using galvanized steel.

But we can no longer take the risk of another collapse; so we opted to build a concrete bridge, costing double the price: $100,000 instead of $50,000.

During that storm, all our Public Works teams were working over-time, and our volunteer firemen were out too, opening the roads, cutting trees, putting out fires and so on. There is a cost for all these services. I would say all this (the bridge and municipal services) cost the town $200,000.

There was also a major problem of overflows into the lake – our pumping system is aging and is no longer able to manage waste-water efficiently. Investment is also needed there.

Tempo: So adapting to climate changes will be very costly?

G. A. Let’s review this. We are already well prepared to handle emergencies. Our communications services worked well. Hydro-Québec’s did as well. We were ready to welcome residents at the community centre to warm up, eat, wash themselves, or simply recharge their electronic devices. About 250 people benefitted from this.

Our first responders checked residences to see whether all was well. We had ample human resources for this. I personally was available around the clock.

So we do not have to start from scratch. Certainly we will need to re-evaluate our equipment expenses and probably accelerate some equipment purchases. Fortunately we have some surplus to handle this. For now we do not plan to hire additional personnel “just in case”. Our taxpayers would find that unreasonable!

Tempo: Tell us about dry periods and forest fires; are you prepared to handle them?

G. A. Forest fires are part of the challenges we face. But we are more concerned about the dry periods and their impact on the level of our lake. We are tackling this issue using simulations prepared by researchers from OURANOS, ENAP and help from the MRC.

The problem we face is that we must supply Bromont with water from our streams. If there is a severe drought, our lake could suffer. Currently we have resources to supply our needs, but not for Bromont. Eventually Bromont will have to find a new water supply.

As you can see, TBL is proactive in facing climate changes. But we have not solved all our problems. Far from it!

Translation: Tam Davis