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West Vancouver bracing for sea level rise

Construction fill used to protect waterfront from future flooding

With sea levels on the B.C. coast projected to rise significantly over the next century, West Vancouver is busy fortifying its foreshore.

“We would say that sea level rise is no longer ‘When it happens.’ We feel its effects now, and we’re planning accordingly,” said District of West Vancouver spokesman Jeff McDonald. “It’s not a future thing. It’s a present thing.”

Since 2012, the district has undertaken a series of proactive projects to enhance and preserve foreshore areas and natural marine habitats as part of its Shoreline Protection Plan.

A 2008 government report entitled “Projected sea level changes for British Columbia in the 21st century,” forecast the continued rise of sea levels globally as the result of continental glacier and ice cap melt, as well upper ocean warming. 

In B.C., sea levels will also be impacted by local conditions, it noted, “including ocean and weather conditions and vertical movements of lands due to geological processes.”

The report predicts sea level rise in the province will vary significantly, from 11 centimetres in Nanaimo to more than 50 cm in areas of the Fraser River Delta.

So what does that mean for West Vancouver?

A sea level rise projection chart for tide gauge and GPS stations on the B.C. coast, which is based on global sea level rise of one metre by the year 2100, provides some clues. The coastal stations get a numerical value from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest) for projected sea level rise and Point Atkinson in West Van is rated 2.

The goal of West Van’s SPP is to “recreate a naturally self-sustaining shoreline to address the impacts of development, climate change and sea level rise.”

“We’re seeing the effects of rising sea levels in West Vancouver. We’ve had weather events and king tides in the last couple of years that have resulted in flooding and damage to areas of the waterfront and so this is one of the steps that we are taking to protect the waterfront… as well as taking care of our natural assets,” said McDonald.

The latest shoreline project is focused on the area east of John Lawson Pier and scheduled to be completed by January.

On Dec. 1, 149 truckloads of excavated glacial sand and rock from the new police services building site rumbled across Marine Drive en route to the beach area near Millennium Park at the foot of 15th Street.

During the tide-dependent work, an excavator is moving boulders and sand in the intertidal area, as well as fortifying the shoreline with boulders and logs.

As McDonald noted, repurposing excavated material from the construction site serves dual purposes.

“It’s a smart way to use material that would otherwise had to be trucked up to Squamish. So we’re achieving two things: we’re preventing the cost and the GHG emissions associated with trucking this material up the highway and we’re also undertaking this foreshore project at the same time.”

Once completed, the latest SPP project will raise the level of the beach between 15th and 17th streets by around one metre.

“I think you could sum up the (SPP) projects by saying that it involves raising the level of the shoreline in key areas and also placing boulders and other materials in key areas to more closely replicate natural tidal processes and also to create habitat that’s been lost.”