The City of Vancouver is pursuing ways to mitigate rising sea levels due to climate change, but the price of one option could be quite large.

Tamsin Mills, a senior sustainability specialist with the city, said the sea level rise is a concern for many coastal cities.

"Our latest information is that by mid-century, we're likely to see 20 to 30 centimetres," she said. "We're starting early so we have lots of time to plan for the foreseeable future."

Mills said there are three main approaches to dealing with potential flooding in the future.

  • Accommodating the increased water by increasing building elevations, and building flood resistant infrastructure.
  • Protecting the city with sea walls, surge barriers, dikes or natural approaches like wetlands.
  • Retreating by removing infrastructure in flood-prone areas over time.

Hefty price tag

The city is exploring different options, and Mills said the city has already implemented some of the ideas — like increasing building elevations in 2014.

City staff have reported that barriers and other infrastructure could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They found one piece of barrier infrastructure to protect low-lying False Creek could cost up to $800 million.

"There's a very expensive price tag to adapting to climate change," Mills conceded. "Many cities internationally grapple with this."

Mills said while some of the impacts might not be immediately apparent, they still need to be prioritized.

"The impacts will be great in the long-term," she said. "We need to make good decisions and we need to start preserving the ability to implement these options."

At yesterday's council meeting, Mayor Gregor Robertson asked city staff to look into whether legal action against major polluters could generate revenue for these infrastructure projects.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Vancouver pursuing ways to protect False Creek from climate-change flooding