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This Canadian Couple Couldn’t Stop Floods. They Learned To Live With Them Instead

Marian and Bruce Langhus developed the “water in, water out” method to manage increasing floods at their New Brunswick bed and breakfast.
By Chelsea Murray
This Canadian Couple Couldn’t Stop Floods. They Learned To Live With Them Instead

Marian and Bruce Langhus pioneered the “water in, water out“ method.

Marian and Bruce Langhus were vacationing in the village of Gagetown, in south-central New Brunswick, in 2015 when they found it: the large, white riverside house Marian was born in, nestled on a picturesque bank of the Wolastoq, also known as the Saint John River. One hundred and eighty-three babies were born there when it served as a birthing house in the 1950s. Marian was the 43rd.

The owners just happened to be pumping water out of the basement that spring day, but the Langhuses were so smitten, they didn’t think anything of it. The couple, retired and looking for a new adventure, offered to buy the house. Soon after, they packed up their life in North Dakota to run a bed and breakfast in the old house.

Marian and Bruce both have PhDs in geology and spent much of their careers working in oil and gas. The pair met in Calgary and worked in the Bakken oil fields. Bruce says his role conducting environmental impact assessments had made him acutely aware of the industry’s impact on the environment. But, he says, that experience also made him “better equipped to tell the public about the coming disasters and the causes of climate change.”

Running Lang House, their Gagetown bed and breakfast, was an entirely different challenge, but they relished their new life. By 2018, though, a combination of snowmelt, rainfall and rising temperatures had changed how they viewed the house—and the course of their life.

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That April, New Brunswick saw rapid snowmelt coupled with record rainfall and above-average temperatures. It was one of the worst spring floods in the province’s history. Some residents evacuated communities in the river valley as water levels rose and began to flood streets and basements, even lifting a few homes off their foundations in nearby Grand Lake. One afternoon, Bruce was sleeping after working all night to keep the water out when Marian saw the water in front of their house rising quickly. “I woke him up and said, ‘We have to go now,’” she says. “We grabbed our belongings, including our wills, and then the water inundated the house.”

Water poured into the basement and main floor and pulled the deck off its foundations, slamming it into the side of the house. As scientists, Marian and Bruce understood the consequences of climate change and saw the 2018 flood as a harbinger of the future—a new normal. So instead of restoring Lang House to its original state, they made it flood-adapted. “No one told us what to do,” says Marian. “We just figured it out.”

They started by replacing the flooring and drywall with water-resistant cedar, raising electrical outlets several feet above the floor and removing the old pink insulation, which was caked in mould, and replacing it with water-resistant spray foam. Then they wrote a guide to help other people in flood-prone areas, calling their method “WiWo”—short for “water in, water out.”

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Marian and Bruce decided to sell Lang House in 2020, but they have continued on in their new roles as community leaders in climate change mitigation and education. They live nearby, albeit on higher ground, in a farmhouse overlooking the river valley.

Marian acts as an advisor to disaster chaplains with the United Church of Christ, and Bruce works with New Brunswick junior high and high school students on a climate change–focused podcast called Intergenerational Conversations, on which teenagers lead conversations with elder New Brunswickers and politicians from municipal, provincial and federal levels about everything from climate anxiety to political action. And together, they run a website called New Climate Guides, providing communities with science-backed information about the changing planet.

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“We need to educate kids that this is serious business,” says Bruce. “We need to get them involved and make them feel heard.”


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