How Metro Vancouver is preparing for rising sea levels

Metro Vancouver is the most at-risk urban area in Canada when it comes to the effects of climate change, says the Coastal Cities at Risk project.

“In an OECD report, (Metro) Vancouver is rated 15th for exposed assets, with $55 billion at risk, and 32nd in terms of population at risk, with 320,000 people exposed,” the Vancouver Sun quotes Cities at Risk as saying.

In its latest release, Cities at Risk points out there are approximately 220,000 people who live at or below sea level in the region – protected by 127 kilometres of dikes which were not built to withstand the expected sea level rise.

The Vancouver Sun notes that the provincial government set new guidelines last year for sea dikes 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.

For the City of Vancouver, this meant adopting a plan that calls for all new construction that could be subject to flooding to 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,” Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s deputy city manager, told the Sun. “They basically raised the entire development one metre without it causing any problems. They built the sidewalks and the streets higher as well,” he said.

The city is also planning to design and install electrical and mechanical equipment so that a building’s ground floor can flood without major disruption, Johnston told the Sun.

For low-lying municipalities like Richmond, BC, the Vancouver Sun notes that dealing with the threat of flooding is business as usual.

“The core of our strategy over very, very long term is to basically build the island up,” John Irving, Richmond’s director of engineering, told the Sun. “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. 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.”

But Richmond is not rushing to build up its dikes just yet. Irving says to pay for upgrades that may not be needed for 100 years doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“Most of the infrastructure we build, in terms of water mains and dikes and everything, if you’re lucky you get 100 years’ lifespan out of it, but it might only last 40 or 50 years and then you’re rebuilding it,” Irving told the Sun. “So we’re planning for it, but we wouldn’t necessarily run out and try to build up all the dikes another metre today.”

Still, rising sea levels are certainly on peoples’ minds in and around Metro Vancouver. Vancouver residents may have noticed the painted blue stripes on the bottom of the Cambie Bridge, part of a city-commission art project, “A False Creek,” intended draw attention to the effects of climate change in the region.

 

For more on the assessment from Cities at Risk, be sure to read the Vancouver Sun article here.

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