Centuries-old dikes in Moncton still holding back the waters

Centuries-old dikes built by Acadian farmers may be protecting two low-lying Moncton neighbourhoods from the tides of the Petitcodiac, but with rising water levels and the deterioration of the dikes themselves, the city is looking into other options.

Aging, abandoned infrastructure will need some help to protect low-lying neighbourhoods

Muriel Markee has lived in this neighbourhood south of Lewisville Road for 48 years and says flooding has gotten worse since she moved in.

Centuries-old dikes built by Acadian farmers may be protecting two low-lying Moncton neighbourhoods from the tides of the Petitcodiac, but with rising water levels and the deterioration of the dikes themselves, the city is looking into other options.

When the first Acadian families settled in Canada in 1636, their purpose was to help feed France's armies, according to Stephen White, genealogist at the Centre for Acadian Studies at the University of Moncton, .

Rather than tear up forests, the Acadians developed a system of dikes that drained and kept salt water off the marsh, leaving fertile farm land.

Evidence of a system of dikes can be found not far from Champlain Mall, south of Lewisville Road, bordering a small, aging subdivision.

"It would have been an area where Acadians would have farmed prior to 1755," White said. 

Without a closer inspection, he couldn't can't say how old these dikes are. Over the decades, the barriers were often added to, or in some cases abandoned. 

"Dikes continued to be built and maintained regularly in certain parts of this area until the beginning of the 20th century," White said.

And regardless of their precise age, the dikes are most likely still performing part of their job.

"They probably are, because they are at higher elevation than where the houses are," said Elaine Aucoin, director of environmental planning and management with the City of Moncton.

But the Lewisville Road neighbourhood and Moncton's east end are still prone to flooding.

"They are very low-lying areas compared to the Petitcodiac River water level, especially when it rains," Aucoin said.

Muriel Markee, has first-hand experience. Her street floods often, she said.

"It runs right across from there, right straight over to my walkway, and then I have a big pool of ice," she said.

"When you get heavy rain, it happens all the time."

She has lived in her home for 48 years, and "actually it's gotten worse," Markee said. "It wasn't that bad when I got here."

Aucoin said the flooding will only continue to worsen because of climate change.

"You could have as much as a metre, a metre and a half of water on the street if we're talking about a one-in-a-hundred year storm."

To figure out ways to help the community, and alleviate the problem, the city is hiring a consultant to study the two communities.  

At two public sessions last June, residents talked about sewer backups, street flooding and water-line breaks.

Moncton received a grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which will cover up to 80 per cent of the cost of the study. The city estimates it will still cost the municipality $31,000.

Markee hopes the money will result in concrete solutions for her community.

One of those solutions could be to repair the long-forgotten dikes. According to Aucoin, the consultants will look at the structures to see if repairing them would be a good investment.

White said the technology isn't new, but it's consistently considered "quite ingenious."