Friday September 30, 2016

Facing the Change: How rising seas are putting Richmond, B.C. at risk

If the city's dikes are not upgraded in the coming decades, much of Richmond, BC could be at risk of flooding as the seas continue to rise.

If the city's dikes are not upgraded in the coming decades, much of Richmond, BC could be at risk of flooding as the seas continue to rise. (Anne Penman/CBC)

Listen 13:13

For Richmond, British Columbia, a city that sits just one metre above ocean level, high tides and rising seas have become serious and imminent threat.

The city is being featured in "Facing the Change," a special Day 6 series about the impact climate change is having right now in urban centres and communities across the country.

By the end of the century, sea levels along Richmond's coast are expected to rise by about 1.2 metres. But the city itself sits just 1m above current sea levels on average. And while the city is surrounded by dikes, they aren't all high enough to protect against those rising seas.

Richmond No. 4 pump

The pump station on No. 4 Road in Richmond, B.C. The city has an extensive plan in place to upgrade local flood protection systems against sea level rise. (Google Streetview)

Located just south of Vancouver, Richmond is built on the floodplain of the Fraser River delta. 

High tides have come alarmingly close to the top of the dikes that protect communities like Steveston, a waterfront neighbourhood on the southern end of Richmond. Low points in the dike system are being monitored on regular basis.

Sandbag Delta king tide

Residents of Boundary Bay in Delta, B.C. set up sandbags in anticipation of king times in January 2016. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The city has an extensive plan in place to upgrade its dikes in the coming decades. It's building four new pump stations— and spending millions of dollars each year to raise the height of the dikes.

City officials expect to have all the dikes upgraded well before sea levels rise high enough to breach them. And in the meantime, they say Richmond is well-equipped to address any flooding that could arise during storm surges or especially high tides.

But the looming threat has some residents thinking about leaving the city behind.

We speak to Tom Pedersen, a professor with the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria and the former executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, about the risks that Richmond faces with rising sea levels.

We also hear from Brett Peters, who lives in the seaside neighbourhood of Steveston; cranberry farmer Bruce May; and John Irving, the director of engineering for the City of Richmond.