Flood-hit British Columbia weighs the cost of climate change protection infrastructure


CALGARY, Alberta – Flood-stricken British Columbia is considering major upgrades to its road network to make it more resilient to climate change risks, as the province begins reconstruction after devastating flooding in the last week.

The upgrades would include building longer bridges and larger culverts with wider drainage channels, placing roads on flatter slopes to prevent landslides, and reinforcing slopes with vegetation and gravel. rocks, said Ian Pilkington, chief engineer of British Columbia’s highway services.

While building new climate-resilient infrastructure is relatively inexpensive, adding between 1% and 5% to total costs, upgrading existing highways to account for climate change or rebuilding roads after they are destroyed is expensive, said Pilkington. He declined to give a dollar estimate for the proposed changes.

Canada’s Pacific province faces billions of dollars in damage after an atmospheric river dumped a month of two-day rain in southern British Columbia, triggering mudslides and washouts that destroyed the roads and railways between the mountainous interior and the coast.

British Columbia already requires engineers to consider climate change when upgrading or building new highway infrastructure. But most of the highways hardest hit by the storm were built in the 1950s and 1960s even before global warming was recognized.

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The province is now starting to consider whether it should renovate all of its highways to account for climate change, Pilkington said.

“This is something we will probably be talking about in the weeks and months to come,” Pilkington told Reuters in an interview last week. “Proactively going to replace a lot of these things, even though they’re still in good shape, is expensive, and that’s something we’re trying to figure out. “

British Columbia is about the size of Nigeria and has approximately 720,000 kilometers (447,387 miles) of paved roads.

Not all of its roads are vulnerable to flooding or other climate change risks, but this year’s extreme weather conditions have highlighted an urgent need to fortify key infrastructure across the mountainous regions that connect most of Canada. dependent on exports at its busiest port in Vancouver.

Manage climate risks, avoid disasters

The federal government of Canada launched a C $ 2 billion ($ 1.6 billion) Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) in 2018, and added C $ 1.35 billion additional funding in 2021 to help provinces and municipalities cover the cost of making infrastructure more resilient.

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The federal Department of Infrastructure Canada did not comment immediately on whether DMAF can meet all of Canada’s adaptation needs and whether flooding in British Columbia will change the government’s climate adaptation strategy to the future.

A major problem is that Canada’s floodplain maps are about 20 to 25 years out of date, which means houses are still being built in areas at risk. Municipalities are responsible for upgrading the maps and work is underway, but experts warn it could take years.

In addition to strengthening highways, British Columbia – and the rest of Canada – should build structures like berms, dikes and diversion channels within communities to channel water away from key properties and infrastructure, said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Center for Climate Adaptation. at the University of Waterloo.

A 2020 report from the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that it will cost Canadian municipalities C $ 5.3 billion per year to adapt their infrastructure to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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Canada already has the ability to identify where the water will go when big storms strike, but governments at all levels must be prepared to spend more on climate adaptation, he added.

Feltmate said global studies have shown that every Canadian dollar spent on climate adaptation prevents between C $ 3-8 in damage.

“Then the sandbags become the point of last resort, not the point of first resort,” Feltmate said. “What we need to do in Canada is stop chasing climate risk. We have to manage risk and avoid catastrophe.

($ 1 = $ 1.2661 Canadian) (Reporting by Nia Williams; editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

Photograph: A farm submerged in flood water following heavy rains and mudslides in Sumas Prairie near Chilliwack, British Columbia on Friday, November 19, 2021. Photo credit: Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press via UKTN .

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