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Construction Corner - Rising tides are a cause for concern

Korky Koroluk
Construction Corner - Rising tides are a cause for concern

Rising ocean levels have captured the attention of long-term planners on Canada’s west coast, where there has been a wave of proposals aimed at staving off the impacts of levels that rise as the world warms.

The city of Richmond has proposed an additional $50 million over the next five years as part of its effort.

The city sits at the mouth of the Fraser River Estuary and along the Georgia Strait.

On average, it’s only a metre above present sea level.

But, climate change models predict much of the city will be below that level a century from now.

In the shorter term, the city is facing a minimum sea-level rise of 20 centimetres within 50 years.

The city has already spent $45 million since 2008 for dikes, drainage pipes and pumping stations.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie has said the total price-tag will be around $200 million once the existing flood-protection system has been further strengthened, extended and raised up to 4.7 metres above average sea level.

The construction industry is a beneficiary of the program, and will continue to be — in B.C.’s Lower Mainland and anywhere else in Canada where potential flooding is a concern.

Just last month, the province announced that a Lower Mainland flood-management strategy will be developed over the next few years by the Fraser Basin Council, in partnership with the federal and provincial governments, and the 25 municipalities in the area.

A report from the chambers of commerce and boards of trade in the area has identified a stretch of the lower Fraser River, where more than $50 billion in economic development is at risk from major floods due to increases in sea level, storm surges, heavy rains and meltwater from the snowpack in the mountains.

Flooding is a concern in lots of places.

As a result, an interesting effort is under way involving the University of Waterloo and Intact Financial Corp., an insurance company.

It involves ripping up sections of asphalt paving and replacing it with permeable brick and gravel.

There are 20 projects in all.

None is large, because the purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of the approach.  Five of the projects — involving the use of permeable brick — are in Calgary, Mississauga, Peterborough, Kingston and Ottawa.

Others include construction of temporary holding tanks to collect stormwater, restoration of urban wetlands, and, in Calgary, home audits to determine the best ways to flood-proof the properties.

Intact Financial is providing $700,000 of the funding.

Insurance companies are keenly interested because they have seen large increases in weather-related claims.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says claims related to catastrophic weather have been more than $1 billion a year every year since 2009. Flooding and extreme weather in Toronto and Calgary a year ago resulted in $3.2 billion in claims by property owners.

There will be claims, too, from the flooding that hit Burlington, Ont., recently. There, 190 millimetres of rain fell in just 2.5 hours. That alone is a freakish event.

What made it even more unusual was that only a small area was hit. Toronto, a short drive east, got very little rain; Hamilton, a short drive west, got none.

David Phillips, senior climatologist with environment Canada, said in an interview with the CBC that the localized nature of the rainfall suggests a "new breed" of storms, adding that governments need to change the way they plan.

"These 50-year storms are occurring every 10 years, because our climate has changed," he said

Phillips said that after the Toronto floods a year ago, he looked at the rainfall records for the last 25 years and found that there had been three 100-year storms and six 50-year storms in that time.

Those figures tell us that our changing climate is going to cost all of us a lot of money.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to

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