Nova Scotia·Updated

$114M announced to help N.S. prepare for rising sea levels, storms

Funding to rehabilitate close to a quarter of Nova Scotia's aging dikes threatened by rising sea levels was announced Wednesday in the Annapolis Valley.

Money will go toward improving over 64 km of dikes and aboiteaux

John Atkinson, an area farmer and land owner, stands on a dike along the LaPlanche River near Amherst, N.S. Funding to rehabilitate Nova Scotia's aging dikes threatened by rising sea levels was announced Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The farmland near Grand Pré is some of the most productive in the province. But it, like much of Nova Scotia, is under threat from rising sea levels and climate change.

On Wednesday, the provincial and federal governments announced a $114-million plan to address those threats by rehabilitating 64 kilometres of dikeland and nine aboiteaux-sluices under the dikes that allow water out at low tide in the Annapolis Valley.

Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister of rural economic development, said the risks of climate change are too dire to ignore.

"We see it in sea level rise, we see it in storm surges," she said following the announcement in Grand Pré. "We know the flooding that can happen because of climate change, so this is something that's definitely really important to us." 

Jordan said the projects will help prevent the flooding of wineries, historical and world heritage sites, Indigenous communities and over 20,000 hectares of farmland.

Rural Economic Development Minister Bernadette Jordan said the announcement is the first time Nova Scotia has received money from the new disaster mitigation and adaptation fund. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Government officials said the spending will help protect over 60 towns and communities on the western coast of Nova Scotia and along Highway 101 from rising seas and powerful storms expected to batter the coast.

Provincial Agriculture Department officials expect the work will take nine years to complete. The money announced Wednesday will also help the province complete the Highway 101 twinning project near Windsor.

A new stretch of highway will cross the Avon River, with a new aboiteau constructed adjacent to the new road, replacing the existing causeway and aboiteau.

Provincial Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said the new structure would allow for better fish passage, tidal control, preserve water levels of the lake in Windsor and protect the community and surrounding area from threats of flooding. The design also means the road and aboiteau can be worked on independently in the future.

This illustration shows how the province will complete the Highway 101 twinning project near Windsor. (Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department)

It's the final detail to be announced in the twinning project. Hines said the province was waiting on a design that could address all concerns voiced by a variety of people and groups during consultations as well as securing help from Ottawa.

"We have both of those today and this enables us to move forward with confidence on the completion of that twinning," he said. "We know where we're going with that project and we expect it will not affect our timeline."

The twinning project is expected to be complete by autumn of 2022.

It will take nine years to complete the upgrades to dikeland, with the portion near Grand Pré requiring the most time. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

A study by a team of geographers at Saint Mary's University has indicated that about 70 per cent of the 241 kilometres of dikes in the province could be overtopped in a severe tidal surge coming up the Bay of Fundy.

The funds for improving the dike system had already been booked in the province's capital budget, with the first rehabilitation project beginning this year near Nappan, N.S.

Jordan made the announcement in Grand Pré, near a site where Acadians first constructed dikes by hand in the 17th century, creating fertile marshlands.

"Over 7,400 kilometres of coastline communities all across Nova Scotia are on the front lines of climate change," said Jordan.

"Adapting to their impacts and preparing ahead will be critical for the well-being of Nova Scotia communities now and into the future."

A recent federal report on climate change projected that as the coast continues to subside and oceans warm, Atlantic Canadian coasts could see up to a metre of sea level rise over the next century.

When combined with powerful storms and tidal surges, scientists are warning that dikes last upgraded over a half century ago won't suffice to protect existing roads, homes and farms.

Jordan called the investments an "example of how planning ahead can help mitigate the costs associated with extreme weather events in the future and get communities back on their feet sooner."

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