For Darlene Norman, being a municipal leader faced with what the author of a new study sees as Ottawa’s piecemeal approach to climate-related flooding feels like drowning in ever-rising seas.

“It’s like we’re here, reeling,” said the mayor of the Queen County region, a sparsely populated region on Nova Scotia’s south coast, which has an increasing risk of storm surge as Atlantic ocean levels rise. .

“It is the municipalities with the most money and the most staff that will receive the most (federal) assistance,” Norman said in an interview Sunday.

“It should be the other way around. Ottawa should have a specific department that assesses the highest risk regions … There needs to be a standard Canadian level of assessment for the destination of funds.”

A study published this weekend by the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation, based at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, found that Canada lacks a national planning system or standard ratings compared to other countries. These systems can be used to assess risks to coastal areas and chart the smartest way forward.

The key findings of the 94-page report, called “Rising Seas and Shifting Sands,” call for the federal government to develop national standards, particularly for natural solutions ranging from dune restoration to marshland restoration.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge in Canada … is a limited sense of urgency to act,” the report concludes.

Joanna Eyquem, a Montreal-based geoscientist who is the author of the report, said in an interview that Canada is about a decade behind the UK, which has had detailed flood maps available for each direction since 1999, as well as a detailed plan for each. one of them. 22 coastal management areas supervised by a national agency.

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Canadian coastal protection, by contrast, is overseen by various departments, including Environment Canada, Infrastructure Canada, and Public Safety Canada.

“We don’t have strong departmental leadership. It’s piecemeal right now,” Eyquem said.

As sea levels rise, one study sees a need for a national and natural approach to help coastal cities. #ClimateChange #RisingSeas

He also said that smaller communities often face complex issues and a lack of staff to apply to funding systems like the Ottawa Disaster Adaptation and Mitigation Fund, created in 2018 and with funding added this year.

Their report notes that in some coastal regions, extreme storm surges can be more than a meter higher than tidal levels. In Atlantic Canada, projections indicate that the Gulf of St. Lawrence will be free of winter sea ice by the end of this century, resulting in increased wave heights and more winter storm surges.

However, municipalities rarely have the expertise to know which combination of measures would be best suited to address climate-related risks over the next century.

The study says that combinations of natural systems, such as natural fiber blankets used to stabilize the soil or designed “hard” or “gray” infrastructure such as seawalls, are available to protect communities from rising water levels. sea.

The dilemma facing Liverpool, NS, the largest city in Norman Township, echoes the issues outlined in the document.

Liverpool has seen flooding in the city center in recent decades due in part to filling the port to create a parking lot and park, increasing the flow of water into the community during storm surges.

The consultant’s recommendations to address the issues included building a boardwalk, raising the level of a municipal parking lot, and purchasing several affected buildings so they could be demolished. The cost of the different options varies between $ 2.8 million and $ 9 million.

Norman said his council chose the least expensive option, accepting that flooding will continue in the lower downtown area. The municipality will provide funds to raise the level of a city street to ensure that it remains passable for emergency vehicles.

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The mayor said her municipality’s ability to apply for federal funding for broader flood risk mitigation, both for Liverpool and other communities in her municipality, is challenged by the reality of a small staff that is already burdened with common tasks.

“It takes months of one person’s work to get the paperwork. It should be a national system where if we ask someone to come and assess our need, they come and objectively assess what areas need assistance,” Norman said.

As communities struggle to cope, some conservation groups are filling in the gaps with programs to help individual homeowners certify that their homes are equipped to deal with rising sea levels and erosion.

Izzy Clarke, a senior field technician with the Coastal Action group in Mahone Bay, NS, said she has been helping homeowners with the Green Shores Project, which is piloting certification programs for Nova Scotia homeowners who want to reduce the chances of flooding and coastal erosion on their land.

“Homeowners are looking at the barrel of climate change and thinking, ‘I can invest now and spend some money and deal with these predictable events,'” Clarke said.

But like Norman, he believes governments should move toward creating established standards, and the province should finalize its Coastal Protection Act, which would establish stricter regulations to prevent builders from installing structures in areas that the seas may one day claim.

“A lot of individual people are working on these coastal issues, but there is room for more coordination,” he said.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 12, 2021.

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