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Province to coastal communities: Prepare for rising seas

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In a report released last week, the government of British Columbia is warning coastal communities about the dangers of rising sea levels, which, says the report, are intensifying.

According to Projected Sea Level Changes for British Columbia in the 21 st Century , sea levels around Vancouver could rise as much as 1.03 metres, or as little as .04 metres, by the year 2100.

“The extreme high estimates exceed the International Panel on Climate Change 2007 sea level rise projections,” reads the report. “Decisions regarding land use, economic development and major long-term infrastructure projects must consider local sea level change to effectively manage risks and reduce vulnerability.”

The projections were gleaned from tidal gauges set up around the coast. According to the report, they coincide with similar documents from the University of Washington and the Washington Department of Ecology, specifically a study published in January 2008. In June of this year, British Columbia and Washington state signed a memorandum of understanding to investigate the science involved in sea level projections, as well as develop strategies to inform communities perched on the coastline.

“This report highlights why it is so important that we continue to aggressively combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions, while helping to prepare all British Columbians for, and protect them from, the negative consequences of climate change,” said provincial Environment Minister Barry Penner in a press release.

The report did not offer projections for Howe Sound. It also noted that natural factors like vertical land movements and Pacific Northwest climate patterns cause sea levels to vary greatly from point to point along British Columbia’s coastline.

Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner called the report’s findings interesting.

“Certainly, we will consider the information in the report,” he said in an interview with Pique.

Much of downtown Squamish is below sea level, including areas planned for further development, such as the Oceanfront Peninsula.

The report highlights intense storm activity as a danger to such developments, as surges can cause sea levels to rise in excess of one metre above current and projected heights. Meanwhile, run-up effects, which are caused by features on the ocean floor, can compound that problem. The complete disaster scenario is described as one involving a major storm at high tide during an El Nino year.

Members of the Squamish Downtown Neighbourhood Association (SDNA) have long been warning against development below the sea level in the town’s downtown core. Often, SDNA members point to a 1991 report to prove this point. However, in previous interviews with Pique , Director of Planning Cameron Chalmers brushed aside those concerns, saying that building practices have improved significantly over the past 20 years, and that developers and council are both cognizant of the risks.

In 2007, the province announced a $100 million flood protection program. Further, $94.5 million was channelled through the Ministry of Environment to support the Pacific Institute for Climate Change Solutions and the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium.

“My wish is that 2009 doesn't become a continuation of Canadian environmental talk and no action,” said John Buchanon, a Squamish Valley Conservationist. “People are now very quick to drop catchy eco-phrases in the hopes of sounding proactive, but the reality is that Canadians have their heads in a rose pile while their environment continues to degrade around them.”

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