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Archive for April 29th, 2007

“Richmond at Risk, UN Flood report warns”

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By Martin van den Hemel
Staff Reporter

Apr 28 2007

Climate change due to global warming places Richmond at risk of flooding as the sea level rises, warns a United Nations report that’s expected to be released next Friday.

The report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change names Richmond and Charlottetown, P.E.I., as vulnerable centres in Canada, according to Don Forbes, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada. Forbes is one of the lead authors of the chapter in the U.N. report—expected to be released during a press conference in Bangkok on May 4—that refers to Canada.

Because of the odd way the Richmond Review web pages work it is worth quoting quite a bit of this story in case it isn’t there when you want to refer to it.

What must also be factored in, Forbes said, is land subsidence, the dropping of the ground level due to settling and other factors over time.

Richmond’s dykes have been designed to a statistical analysis of what water levels have been historically, and that planning mindset needs to change, Forbes said.

“The change in thinking that has to happen is that the engineering profession has to think in terms of the climate, the water level statistics not being constant, but being on an upward trend.”

And in a nice bit of timing, given His Honour’s latest photo op assuring the populace that the current high level of the snow pack does not mean we need more money from the province (with much scrambling in places like Delta (seen below) and Pitt Meadows to raise their dykes)

Dyke Works Westham Island 2007_0511

University of Western Ontario professor Gordon McBean said Richmond’s dykes need to be fortified and raised to account for a gradual sea level rise of up to 60 centimetres, or nearly two feet, this century. McBean chairs the International Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme.

“That should be part of their planning premise. It’s called an adaptation strategy,” the former Lower Mainland resident said.

News of the United Nations report broke April 20, the same day the city held a press conference to reassure Richmond residents that the city is prepared for flooding threats.

So are we actually doing much about this threat?

Terry Crowe, manager of policy planning for the City of Richmond, said it will be extremely costly over the coming decades to protect the city from flooding. But the city is tapping into the latest science and preparing for the climactic changes to come.

Not only are dykes going to be built higher, but they may also need to be widened, he said.

Despite the annual steps to maintain, test and reinforce the dykes, the cost over the coming decades has been estimated at $91 million. A proposed mid-island dike could cost $16 million.

Crowe said a good strategy involves a range of things, and the city is, among other things, requiring that new homes be built a little higher than normal, and adjusting entire neighbourhoods, such as West Cambie, when it’s appropriate.

So I take that as a “no” – Crowe seems to recognize that we need to do a lot more than we currently have planned but he expects resistance from those who will be worried about the cost. But we citizens cannot buy flood insurance. It’s all very well bleating about the cost, but I suspect that it won’t be the City on the hook for the disaster relief funds – that will be the province. And if the flooding is widespread then don’t expect that provincial funds will cover more than a percentage of the loss. And those houses that are ” a little higher than normal” also put up the chances that local flooding of older homes will be much more severe. Notice too that the new houses cover much of their plot in either building or hard surfaces for parking, reducing the amount of soil to absorb rainfall and increasing run off and hence the pressure on the ditches and pumps we all rely on to stay dry.

And it is too late now to reflect on what the studies prior to the LRSP said about building in flood prone areas. Because we have and a lot of people live here now and not all of them are on the upper floors of high rises. So they will be ok for a while, but I doubt they will be able to use their elevators – or their HVAC or lighting either. Not too sure about drinking water either.

And all this makes the article I found on the Tyee seem prescient – it was published on August 10, 2006

UPDATE June 11, 2007 

The immediate risk seems to have passed but to keep up to date the City now has a flood watch web page 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2007 at 8:22 pm