Multi-million dollar dike upgrade to protect London from 'one in 250 year' flood

The Upper Thames Conservation Authority announced Wednesday that the federal government will commit up to $10 million to repair the west London dike. The city will kick in another $15 million.

The dike was first built in the late 1800s and is starting to show its age

David Charles is the supervisor of water control structures with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The west London dike was first built in the late nineteenth century, following a severe flood in 1883 that claimed 17 lives. Although repairs have happened since then, the infrastructure is starting to show its age. 

"It still performs, but at the same time there's unstable sections," said David Charles, supervisor of water control structures with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. 

More than a century later, the dike is getting a major upgrade.

On Wednesday, federal and municipal levels of government announced they would commit a total of $25 million to rebuild aging sections of the west London dike over the next decade. These sections run north from Blackfriars Bridge to Oxford Street West and west from the Forks of the Thames to Cavendish Park.

Up to this point, repairs have already begun between Queen Street and Blackfriars, Charles said.

Infrastructure Canada will kick in up to $10 million for the project through the federal Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, and the city of London will make up the difference with up to an additional $15 million in funding. The Upper Thames River Conservation authority will manage the project in partnership with the city.

Flooding in 2018 swamped London's Gibbons Park. (Colin Butler/ CBC News)

The revamped dike will protect west London from a "one in 250 year flood" — up from its current ability to withstand a "one in 100 year flood," according to Charles.

Climate change causing more extreme weather

The need for infrastructure improvements has only grown more significant as a result of climate change, according to Marco Mendicino, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of infrastructure and communities, who was in London for the announcement.

"The effects of these extreme weather events don't go away overnight," said Mendicino. "It takes time to rebuild and to repair the damage that can take a major toll."

2018 flooding in London submerged cars at Western University. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

Just last year, flooding of the Thames River swallowed cars, shut down roads and caused an estimated $150,000 in damage to parks and recreation sites in the city.

Unlike with previous floods, that event didn't cause any deaths in London and resulted in only "minor damage," Mayor Ed Holder said at the funding announcement.

There are limits to what the city's current infrastructure can withstand. Without the planned upgrade, Charles said a "one in 250 year flood" could cause almost $65 million in damages — nearly three times the cost of the governments' investment.

"It's just basically a no-brainer for the federal government and city of London to go ahead with the full $25 million project," he said.