Rising sea levels combined with volatile and intense storms provide a challenge for B.C. coastal municipalities, but it’s a challenge they say they are meeting head on.
Last year, the province set new guidelines for sea dykes and land use in coastal flood-hazard zones as part of the effort to manage an expected sea level rise of 1.2 metres in the next 100 years.
Coastal Cities at Risk, a project studying how to protect people, communities and vital economic sectors that are most at risk from the effects of climate change, is studying Metro Vancouver, which it cites as the Canadian urban area most at risk from rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
The City of Vancouver adopted the new guidelines last summer, calling for new construction in areas that could be subject to flooding be built up an additional metre, to 4.5 metres above sea level.
“We did that immediately with the West Fraser Lands development River District. They basically raised the entire development one metre without it causing any problems,” said Sadhu Johnston, deputy city manager.
“They built the sidewalks and the streets higher as well.”
He said that for infill development, the city works with the developer to creatively meet the new levels without disrupting the streetscape.
“We don’t want a streetscape that’s got one building at street level and one a metre higher and it’s kind of all lopsided.”
One option, he said, is to design and install electrical and mechanical equipment — things that might be susceptible to damage during high water levels — so that the building’s ground floor can flood without major disruption, Johnston said.
In Richmond, dealing with the threat of flooding is just business as usual.
“Richmond has no alternative — they are a major growth centre and they take very strong measures to protect their community against rising sea level and flooding,” said Stephen Sheppard.
He is a professor of landscape architecture and forest resources management at the University of British Columbia, and works with Collaborative Advanced Landscape Planning on issues of communities and climate change.
“It’s a well-populated city, with more resources than a rural place. They’re like the Netherlands, they don’t have a lot of choice, they have to spend their resources on protection.”
Richmond has a complex system that includes a 3.5-metre high dike, pumping stations that pump water off Sea Island and a system of ditches.
“The core of our strategy over very, very long term is to basically build the island up. Contrary to some popular misconceptions, Richmond is not below sea level, it is largely at one metre and above the mean tide level. It’s not like New Orleans or anything like that,” said John Irving, director of engineering for Richmond.
“If you look at the Fraser Port Lands or the Aspac development around the Olympic oval, those lands have already been built up to four, five, six metres elevation and beyond.”
Irving said if Richmond does have to build up its dike another metre or more, it won’t be a problem.
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