A professor at Mount Allison University says it's time for the Town of Sackville to move forward with flood planning due to rising sea levels from climate change.

For decades, Sackville's homes, roads and business have been protected by dykes that hold back water in the Bay of Fundy.

David Lieske

Prof. David Lieske leads the research team at Mount Allison's Geospatial Modeling Lab. (CBC)

However, there is now concern about erosion of the dykes from rising sea levels brought on by climate change.

The Geospatial Modelling Lab at Mount Allison has developed new software that identifies the areas of town that would be under water should the system of dykes fail to hold back the rising levels.

"[You] can see these red zones," says Prof. David Lieske, who is leading the research. "These are locations quite close to town where those dykes need investment."

Lieske says another important part of flood planning includes encouraging development outside of flood-prone areas.

"With a town like Sackville, I would think about commercial development high up, out of the flood plain, and think of projecting a future downtown Sackville that's in a different location."

Sackville map

Map of Sackville notes flood-prone areas if dykes fail to hold back rising sea. (CBC)

Lieske says it's not about shutting down the downtown core, but taking a new approach to development in Sackville.

“Through this research, custom software was developed to allow various aspects of vulnerable infrastructure, neighbourhoods, and sections of dyke to be overlapped with different projected sea-level rise scenarios,” says Lieske.

The federal government installed the dykes in the 1950s. The last big flood in the town happened in 1962 after three days of heavy rain.

Without the dykes in place, the town would flood twice a day, according to Claude Robichaud, an engineer and manager of marshland maintenance for the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries.

Sackville dykes

Dykes to protect Sackville from the Bay of Fundy were built by the federal government in the 1950s (Eastern Eyes Photography)

The provincial government hopes to convince the federal government to reinvest in the dykes at a cost likely to run into the millions

Nic McLellan of Ducks Unlimited says topping up the dykes should be a top priority.

"I think it's not a question of if something is going to happen, but when," said McLellan. "So letting everybody be aware of potential risks and being prepared for them, I think is key."

Lieske says the work of the research group could be adapted to other communities in New Brunswick that are at risk for flooding related to climate change.