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Sandy spurs Saanich, Victoria to talk sea change

Staff looking into plan to deal with coastal flooding

Arguing recent events like hurricane Sandy can't be ignored, Victoria, Saanich and the Capital Regional District will team up to assess, map and start to prepare to manage effects of rising sea levels brought on by climate change.

Proposals to produce a regional map of areas vulnerable to coastal flooding and to draft a model bylaw to assist in the management of flood hazard areas were endorsed this week at a joint meeting of Saanich and Victoria councils. It was the third time the municipalities have held a joint meeting.

"All of the best available science from leading experts in this region tells us we are already experiencing climate impacts here and we will continue to do so," Roy Brooke, Victoria's director of sustainability, told the meeting.

"Heat waves, flooding, changes to the natural environment, sea-level rise will all mean we have to change how we do our business as individuals, municipalities and communities."

Taking action now instead of reacting to impacts later can save taxpayers dollars, he said.

"Even by the most conservative [estimates], even spending $1 now can save $4, $5, or $6 or more dollars in the future in terms of disaster impacts we don't need to respond to, not to mention the human toll," Brooke said.

Predictions are that local sea levels will rise by 45 centimetres by 2050. Some estimates have levels rising by as much as one metre by 2100.

"We recognize that response and recovery from hurricane Sandy has basically fallen on municipal governments," said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

All the councillors praised staff for being proactive in drafting the proposals.

Some cautioned, how-ever, that making plans is one thing. Getting the public to buy-in is quite another.

"This is vital work but I think there will be a long process of public discussion about how to react," said Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, adding governments don't have a great track record with this type of planning.

"The experience has been it's very easy to point out someone is building their summer cottage on a sand bank that's likely to wash away, but it's very hard to take the next step of figuring what to do with it," Young said.

Saanich Coun. Vic Der-man said estimates of sea level rise are conservative and greenhouse gas mitigation efforts need to be stepped up.

"It wasn't that long ago, just a few years ago, that the estimates for sea level rise by 2100 was 38 centimetres. I remember at the time saying to a number of people this is probably really conservative because the climate change models are very conservative," Derman said.

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock said the collaborative effort is overdue.

"I think it's tremendous we are moving forward. I agree with comments made earlier. Isn't it remarkable how far we've moved from a discussion about 'Is this happening,' to recognizing the reality, particularly as a coastal community that it is happening.

"The evidence is more than just speculative. We can see it."

The mapping initiative with the CRD as the lead agency is seen as a two-year project costing $100,000.

Natural Resources Canada is considering funding $50,000, and $20,000 has been requested from Tides Canada. In-kind resources will come from the CRD, Saanich and Victoria for the balance of the funds.

Drafting a model bylaw is expected to take one year and cost about $45,000.

The hope is Natural Resources Canada will fund half of that, with the CRD, Victoria and Saanich each contributing $3,500 cash as well as in-kind resources.