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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Institutions contributing to system adaptability : the case of flood management in the Fraser Valley Crawford Boettcher, Erica


The flood threat has existed as long as humans have inhabited the Fraser Basin but the context is changing. Climate change is expected to impact streamflow and flood patterns in yet unpredictable ways, at the same time that population, infrastructure and economic activity continue to increase in floodplain areas in the Basin. This challenge is emerging just as significant shifts in relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations institutions in Canada are taking place. All levels of government jointly affect the adaptive capacity of the linked social-ecological system they inhabit together. In the face of such complexity and uncertainty, a system needs to have the capacity to anticipate, learn, adapt and transform, and not just react, in order to persist. The central research question explored in this study is: How does institutional capacity enhance and/or hinder the current, and ongoing, adaptability of the flood management regime? Drawing on the fields of social-ecological systems, disaster management, and organizational resilience, an adaptability lens is combined with Healey et al.'s Institutional Capacity framework (1999, 2003) to explore these questions focusing on the case of a flood management regime involving the City of Chilliwack and Stó:lō Nation communities in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. The study is based on documentation, direct observation and twelve expert interviews conducted with representatives of key organizations. Sources of Institutional Capacity that enhance adaptability include the presence of divergence and diversity across the system, along with “learning systems” and collective “sensemaking” repertoires (i.e. the ability to interpret and act in novel situations). Barriers to enhancing adaptability were also identified. For example, an overriding belief in structurally-driven flood management is at odds with the nature of the flood hazard and potential changes. As well, the relative proficiency of the emergency management system may undermine longer-term cycles essential for resilience. Overall, the analysis suggests that the flood management regime was adaptable in the short-term. In the mid- to long-term there are important components of institutional capacity that enhance the potential for adaptability, but a number of weak or missing elements threaten to undermine system adaptability if left unaddressed.

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