Prepare now for future climate havoc, IISD report urges

Coulter-Waskada bridge to be repaired by early spring, says province

Southwestern Manitoba residents know first hand about the lingering inconveniences and costly after-effects associated with weather-related disasters.

More than two years after spring flooding wiped out the Souris River bridge between Coulter and Waskada, they’re still waiting on repairs to a key transportation link in their area. In the meantime, area residents as well as oilfield workers must make a lengthy detour until repairs are completed in the spring of 2014.

“It was heavy rains in Saskatchewan. Is that climate change? I don’t know,” said Jim Trewin, reeve of Arthur Municipality. Repairs to the bridge are underway, and he’s heard that it’s going to be built higher and sturdier when it is finished. But elsewhere in his municipality, he sees a lot of other infrastructure that needs to be upgraded simply because it’s past its expiry date.

The damaged bridge is an example of the kind of infrastructure damage a recent report by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) warns we could see more of in coming years as climate change tests infrastructure that is already past its prime.

Sponsored by the Cement Association of Canada, the review of existing government and private-sector studies and documents lists a range of possible adverse impacts from more intense storm surges, hotter, drier summers, and melting permafrost.

It also notes that 50 per cent of existing public infrastructure will reach the end of its service life by 2027, and added that a 2012 federal report pegged the replacement cost of infrastructure ranked as being “fair” to “very poor” at $171.8 billion nationally.

“With so much of Canada’s infrastructure reaching the end of its life in the very near future, there are opportunities for investments to be rethought and life-cycle costs to be taken into greater consideration. If targeted effectively, new infrastructure investments can significantly improve the long-term resilience of Canada’s infrastructure in the face of climate change,” the report’s authors wrote.

Melita’s “machinery row,” so named for the numerous farm equipment dealerships built near a flood plain alongside the Souris River, has been threatened by spring flooding a number of times in recent years.

“Ever since the 2011 flood, they promised us a new dike, but they are still doing studies on it,” said Trewin. “I don’t know how many more floods will come and go before we finally get it.”

Colin Craig, Prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, wonders who is going to pick up the tab for such a massive rebuilding effort.

“The numbers don’t add up,” he said. “Unless we see radical changes, we’re going to see big tax increases.”

Government spending is already unsustainable, taxes are too high, and making matters worse is the fact that in the coming decades the baby boomer generation is poised to retire, collect pension cheques and need more health care at a time when household debt levels are “extremely high,” added Craig.

In an emailed response, a provincial government spokesman said that engineers are already considering future climate impacts in bridge designs and new routes for northern winter roads, for example.

“The design standard used to be to design bridges for a one-in-50-year flood event, but in some cases recently, the government has already used a one-in-100-year flood event when designing bridges,” adding that under a new design code, the life of bridges was given a boost from 50 years to 75 years due to recent advances in materials and technology.

As for the bridge on the Coulter-Waskada stretch of PR 251, he stated that MIT is anticipating that this bridge will be open to traffic by mid-March 2014, but some approach roadworks will need to be completed in the summer of 2014.

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