New provincial design standards for dikes meant to provide protection against earthquakes and prepare for rising sea levels could cost Lower Mainland municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars.
Municipalities say if the province is going to establish new design guidelines for dikes which protect billions of dollars in infrastructure it needs to provide money to help make the required improvements.
The City of Richmond has already estimated the new dike design standards will cost $180 million $100 million to account for higher sea levels and $80 million to improve the dikes' ability to withstand earthquakes.
Richmond's director of engineering John Irving said even though the expense could be spread over a number of decades, it is difficult to plan for the improvements without dedicated funding.
``It's additional cost the province has created without additional funding,'' he said.
Richmond, Delta and Chilliwack account for nearly half of the 330 kilometres of high-risk dikes to which the new earthquake rules apply.
Dikes are considered high risk or ``high consequence'' when they protect urbanized areas. Chilliwack alone has estimated its 50 kilometres of dikes protect $2 billion in property and infrastructure.
The province is not ordering municipalities to make upgrades immediately to meet the new standards. Instead, the improvements will be required only as new dikes are built, or dikes are upgraded.
The new earthquake standards released last month allow dikes to be upgraded in a number of ways, for example, by widening or compacting the base with methods that include pile driving and injecting mortar into the soil. Dikes would need to be raised to account for expected rises in sea levels from climate change, outlined in new guidelines released in the first half of the year.
Neil Peters, the province's inspector of dikes, said there is no new funding tied to the new standards.
``At least at this point, the guidelines process is separate from any infrastructure-funding process,'' said Peters, who is also head of flood safety for the province.
He likened the new dike standards to upgrading the building code. ``It doesn't mean that somebody building an apartment gets money to comply with the new code,'' he said.
Although Delta has not produced cost estimates, deputy director of engineering Hugh Fraser said the new standards would cost ``very large dollars. ''
Fraser noted the provincial and federal governments are putting significant investments into the Lower Mainland to develop its ports and other infrastructure to tap into growing trade with Asia.
``They need to recognize these communities need to be protected if this is going to be the gateway to the Pacific,'' he said.
According to the province's new guidelines, an earthquake creates a number of risks, including a phenomena known as liquefaction which can turn sandy, wet soils into a kind of slurry.
The Fraser River delta had been identified as a prime location for liquefaction, said John Clague, a Simon Fraser University geologist with an expertise in earthquakes.
The liquefied ground can destabilize dikes, and can cause sliding, slumping and collapsing.
This can be an immediate threat where dikes are holding back seawater, for example, at high tide, or river water, as at the Vedder Canal in the upper Fraser Valley.
Any collapse of dikes from an earthquake is also a significant danger if there is an ensuing tsunami.
If an earthquake were to happen when the Fraser River was experiencing high water, the consequences could be more severe.
While a major earthquake that affects the entire region happens about every 500 years along the southern B.C. and U.S. northwest coasts, less-powerful earthquakes happen more often, noted Clague.
The smaller earthquakes can still cause considerable damage from liquefaction, particularly the closer they are to built-up areas, he said.
The province has put up money to upgrade dikes recently, but the funds are not specifically targeted at these latest standards.
The BC Liberal government's 10-year, $100-million flood protection program, announced in 2007, already receives more applications than it can accommodate. In some years, the value of the applications exceeds $100 million, noted Steve Litke, a program manager at the Fraser Basin Council.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz would like to see a return to the joint provincial-federal Fraser River Flood Program which ran from 1968 to 1994 and provided about $300 million if inflation is factored in.
Gaetz said the community simply can't afford the upgrades that would be required as part of the new earthquake standards, even if it's a cost in the future. ``Frankly, I can't imagine the kind of impact that would have on taxation,'' she said.
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