The University of Waterloo has published a report detailing the current danger to Canada’s coastal communities, as well as possible solutions and strategies for protecting Canada’s east and west coasts from the increasing risk of flooding caused by rising sea levels. The report, published in December of 2021, is a joint effort by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, which is a UW research centre, and the Standards Council of Canada and was authored by Joanna Eyquem, the managing director of Climate-Resilient Infrastructure at the Intact Centre.
Rising sea levels as a result of climate change are not a new phenomenon, but they are a growing concern to Canada’s coastal communities. The country is surrounded by three oceans and more than six million Canadians live in marine coastal areas, many of which could be affected by flooding caused by sea level rise.
The report seeks to address the dangers of rising sea levels by providing people, including policymakers, with information about the costs and benefits of different coastal defense strategies. The report splits these defenses into traditional grey infrastructure methods such as seawalls and nature-based solutions such as dune restoration.
Eyquem discussed features of both types of solutions, emphasizing that “the good thing about natural infrastructure is that if we design it well, it’s self-maintaining.” As opposed to grey infrastructure, the report explains, the significant benefit of implementing nature-based solutions is that in addition to reducing flood risk, they can help with recreational activities and human health, as well as building biodiversity in communities.
The report follows another report published by the Intact Centre earlier in 2021, which highlighted how unprepared the majority of Canadian cities are in the event of floods, with some cities even showing a decrease in preparedness compared to a previous 2015 study. With storm surges damaging sea defenses in early January and flooding in B.C. throughout the later part of 2021, this report comes at a pivotal moment. Eyquem stressed that “2021 really demonstrated that this is happening and we are experiencing a whole range of extreme events across Canada, and they are going to be more frequent.” Canada must look to protect its coastal communities now.
The report also highlighted available funds for protective measures. One initiative Eyquem mentions is the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund (DMAF), a $2-billion, 10-year fund set up by the federal government in 2018, which communities can apply to for infrastructure projects that increase resilience against climate change. In 2021, an additional $1.375-billion over 12 years was allocated to the DMAF, with specific allocations for Indigenous recipients.
To help combat the issue of rising seas, and push for the implementation of nature-based flood prevention measures, Eyquem urges students to “explore opportunities with their local community,” adding that “something we can do is talk about it.”
Parks Canada has set up a program named the Coastie Initiative where members of communities such as students here at UW can photograph coastal areas, which can help track coastal erosion.