Sea rise, water infiltration and flooding is nothing unexpected-it was UBC’s Kees Lokman who has been insisting that every municipality have one specific person on staff to deal with coastal issues and stormwater management. Last Spring Viewpoint Vancouver wrote that the most fertile farmland in Canada is located along the Fraser River and that one-third would be impacted by flooding, threatening food security. We also mentioned that some flooding (as we just experience in Vancouver) at high tides would be in areas that would be permanently underwater by 2050.
You can take a look at the research creating the open-source data base Living with Water created by Mr. Lokman. Even though we know that the sea rise of one half a meter is expected by 2050 and a sea rise of one meter expected by 2100, we still build on low land and plan more tall buildings on flood prone lands like it is 1999. Most of people in the province live close to water, with sixty percent living in Metro Vancouver.
One of the founding fathers of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and City Councillor of Richmond Harold Steves puts it this way on social media: “why build cities on floodplains? Because farmland and wetland is cheaper to buy and build on than upland, without regard for the future. That’s what I said in 1959 after Richmond B.C. rezoned 12,000 acres of farmland and put my father and a thousand other farmers out of business. Save the ALR”.
Combine the highest tides of the year with gale force winds and you get the kind of damage people saw in Vancouver on the weekend, with the Jericho Pier broken and the Stanley Park’s iconic seawall picked apart like pieces of gingerbread. The worst damage occurs when coastal flooding, erosion coincide with storm waves and high peak tides.
From an engineering perspective the seawall is repairable but does require materials and labour to get the job done. While some media gloomily suggest that the seawall is finished, it is not. Just like dedicated bike lanes and sidewalk amenities the sea wall will be rebuilt. We are not far from having different technologies that will be able to sling and hammock walkways in ways that can be protected from erosion in climatic events.
But that does not address what is still not seen as a regional pressing challenge that needs immediate focus. The Fraser Basin Council has a draft Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy that estimates future flooding will result in 20 to 30 billion dollars of economic loss. Metro Vancouver has had significant floods, in 1948 and in 2021. The report notes that regional development has been growing on flood plain hazard areas , putting at risk these areas and the critical infrastructure that supports them.
Mr. Steves notes that a one foot sea rise would jeopardize the City of Richmond’s dyke system. The dredging and channel deepening which has been done along the Fraser River also exacerbates flooding. Still we are looking at building a new hospital precinct and new development along Vancouver’s shoreline and in False Creek.
There is a lot we can learn from the Dutch about water management. In 1953 a horrendous flood resulting from a storm surge along the North sea killed 1,800 people. From that disaster the country developed a comprehensive management system of “polders”, which are reclaimed land parcels that would normally be below the sea. Instead of physical man made dikes protected and bolstered dunes double as water protection for communities and wonderful natural bird habitat. Experts are modelling out ways to compensate for a potential 84 centimeters of sea rise by 2100. (Vancouver’s sea rise is predicted to be one meter by 2100.)
Sadly as a region we just are not there yet.