Climate Change

Organized irresponsibility

For decades, flood risk studies have accumulated on shelves in Victoria. One government after another failed to prioritize actions recommended by experts.

Politicians and senior bureaucrats rated other expenditures as more important. Like the $16+ billion dam project on the Peace River, like the $13 billion rewards (present day value) given to benefit fossil fuel producers since 2007, or the $10+ billion above market value paid to private power producers by BC Hydro.

Problems ignored do not go away. Unaddressed, they often result in serious consequences. In 2021, government failures in flood risk management caused incalculable losses. All businesses and residents of the province are affected. Countless animals and structures are destroyed and vast reaches of land are materially damaged.

Despite readily available proof to the contrary, politicians go before the public and say the current year’s disaster was unforeseeable. It was entirely foreseeable, if only government paid attention to the known knowns.

Writing in The Tyee, Crawford Killian refers to lack of preparation when broad dangers emerge asorganized irresponsibility.”

After paying particular attention to two significant reports delivered to the BC NDP government in 2021, my description of BC’s political leaders would be less polite.

These reports were prepared by Ebbwater Consulting Inc. with assistance from Pinna Sustainability Inc.

  1. Investigations in Support of Flood Strategy Development in British Columbia – Issue A: Flood Risk Governance. Prepared for the Fraser Basin Council and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, May 2021.
  2. Investigations in Support of Flood Strategy Development in British Columbia, Summary Report, July 2021.

The papers are filled with evidence that bureaucrats would rather define problems than solve them. Much of what was written by the recent consultants had been said repeatedly before 2021. Governance failures have long been apparent but the main response has been a collective yawn. Suggestions of concrete action are seen as reasons to conduct more studies.

Excerpts:

As evidenced by persistent losses and damages associated with flood as well as recent reckonings of the system in post-disaster reviews, there is a strong argument that there is a failure of the current flood risk governance structure.

Climate change is increasing our flood hazard across the board. Sea levels are rising, increasing coastal flood hazard, and inland flood frequency and intensity is expected in increase on many systems.

Concurrently with increasing hazard from climate change, parts of the province face increasing development pressures that are potentially exposing more people, buildings, and critical infrastructure to hazard areas.

As evidenced by persistent losses and damages associated with flood, as well as recent reckonings of the governance system in post-disaster reviews (e. g. Abbott and Chapman, 2018; Simms and Brandes, 2016) there is a strong argument that there is a failure of the current flood risk governance system.

Climate change is increasing our flood hazard across the board. Sea levels are rising, increasing coastal flood hazard, and inland flood frequency and intensity is expected to increase in many watersheds.

Concurrently with increasing hazard from climate change, parts of the province face increasing development pressures that are potentially exposing more people, buildings, and critical infrastructure to hazard areas.

The current model for flood risk governance in BC is imperfect. The province and its residents continue to face damages, losses, and misery associated with flood events. And, existing governance systems do not meet most principles for best practice.

There is, at this moment a policy window for a shift in flood risk governance in BC, because of external factors in combination with knowledge of new paradigms for flood risk governance. This is an amazing opportunity to improve flood risk governance in the province, which will create safer more resilient communities today and in future.

The clearest words by Ebbwater Consulting are in the closing of their July report:

The current model for flood risk governance in BC is broken. The province continues to face damages, losses and misery associated with flood events, and the system clearly breaks down on best practice principles for good governance.

11 replies »

  1. I really struggle with the loss some people have incurred but how do
    you reconcile their loss with being located in flood risk areas? They must
    have known and decided to take the risk which we all must share now but
    had no input into their decision. When the Bow river and Elbow river flooded
    and put the Saddledome into shut down Calgary finally clamped down on
    development on the flood plain. Yes go ahead and build perhaps but you
    are self insuring for potential flood exposure not looking to the city of
    Calgary for relief. Does egg and diary production really need to be located
    on the flood plain? I understand that some of these industries are generational
    but the climate was considerably more stable back then. BC is really out there with
    regards to terrible losses to floods and fire going forward and to respond with taxpayer support to rebuild in the same high risk area just seems to border on insanity.
    Worshipping technology to mitigate the risk can give a very false sense of
    security. Yes build back better and stronger but perhaps not in the same place
    no matter how difficult that might be to consider.

    Like

    • Well argued. But not rebuilding on the flood plains would remove considerable land from established communities in southwest British Columbia. I was surprised by the extent of land at risk. This is from the BC Government website on dike management:

      There are more than 200 regulated dikes in B.C. with a total length of over 1100 kilometres, protecting 160,000 hectares of valuable land.

      The people of The Netherlands seem to be successful in managing water. The difference between the authorities there and here is that Dutch people are actively committed to protecting communities from known flood dangers.

      The strategy in BC has been to do rather little, spend more on spin doctoring than engineering, and hope nothing serious goes wrong. The BC government takes the same approach to moderating other climate risks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jokingly, I said to the Mrs. a couple of days ago that British Columbians would be fortunate to have a government friendly (not a condition of winning a contract) general contractor working on Site C, who could pick up and move his army of workers and equipment like a second George S. Patton to run and rebuild the damaged highways due to flooding ……North-South-East of Hope. As it turns out, in one of the tranbc photos albums on flckr.com there is an image with “Dent Construction” sign on the door which is, wait for it,…… headquartered in Hope. ttps://jimdentconstruction.com/projects/

    And the photos link https://www.flickr.com/photos/tranbc/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This fiasco was going to happen, it had to happen and our politicians did nothing to prevent this.

    We have forgotten that a similar weather event defeated the CPR on the Coquihalla route, in the late 1950’s. so much damage was done that the CPR abandoned the route.

    The Fraser Canyon has been ignored after the Coq opened and the route has had little in vestment.

    The Duffy lake road is just plain poor and there has been little investment on this important route and the same goes for the Hope Princeton.

    Multi billion dollar bridges, tunnels, SkyTrain has sucked monies from our regional highways.

    And the Fraser Valley where a pittance was spent by government to improve the dikes. if any one cared to notice, the main dike that gave way causing a lot of damage was a an earthen affair, cheap and nasty construction.

    Look at the Netherlands, massive dikes preventing flooding on low lying ground. Not so here.

    In BC, politicians do not care about the province, rather all they care about is making profits for their politcal friends. Infrastructure is for photo-ops at election time and as there are far more seats to win in metro Vancouver, the rest of the province can go fish.

    We are paying the price for political hubris and the sad thing is, our politicians have yet to learn the lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sky train moves more people and keeps more cars off the roads, so is good for climate mitigation. But supporting fossil (LNG) activities is counterproductive.

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  4. I want to see the minutes of the meetings and have the names of the people that attended. Out of those names, who voted not to act?

    Who? Name names.

    We are paying a lot of who’s an awful lot of money to look after things. We are told we need to pay to get good people. For the amount we are paying them there should be no problems….. ever. A serious look at the salaries of these who’s is needed. I would rather have hired dump truck drivers to add a few inches of dike a year.

    We always hear “the government didn’t act”. I submit it is the senior career bureaucrats and deputy ministers that didn’t act. They have names, but those names never appear on the voting ballot. The people that cause the most damage make the most money and live on from elected government to elected government with seemingly zero accountability……and don’t get me going on the other set of people with power that we didn’t vote for….career backroom party hacks. Why do the people we did vote for lose their backbone and kowtow to them?

    Like

    • Sad to say, there is no actual proof that Skytrain keeps cars off the road. In fact BC Transit and later TransLink have never claimed a modal shift from car to transit.

      This is one of the reasons why the proprietary SkyTrain light-metro system has failed to find a market with only 7 such systems sold in 40 years and only 3 seriously used for transit.

      The only rail mode with a proven ability to take cars off the road is LRT because being at grade, reduces traffic lanes thus reduces traffic.

      One of the reasons Skytrain is built is to retain road-space for cars with the most recent evidence is the city of surrey four laning the Fraser highway through Green timbers Urban Forest.

      In fact the CO2 released for the huge amounts of concrete needed for SkyTrain causes more pollution than any cars taken off the road.

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  5. Victoria has been abrogating its responsibilities for decades, frequently offloading them on municipalities that, at best, create an incoherent patchwork of policies.

    A while back I had a chance to discuss sea level rise with our town engineer. He said it was being tackled on a municipality by municipality basis. Each, if it could afford the cost, hired its own consultants to assess sea level rise, worsening storm surge events and unseasonal melting snowpacks. The result is chaotic.

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  6. It cannot be understated that the $Billions spent on political vanity projects that balloon out of control on both scope and cost are part to blame. What aspiring political party wants to have their name on a refurbished dyke when they can take credit for colossal mistakes like the Port Mann fiasco? When twinning an existing structure made the most sense, the political party of the day spent large and ironically still lost power. Same party started the $16B+ Site C mess when no real need existed or exists to this day. Of that over a $Billion is being spent to re-locate Hwy 29 with 5 massive bridges, one being over 1100 metres long. BCHydro boasts of 4500 or more being employed on this overpriced destruction of over 100 km of valley that floods some very high quality farm land.
    Many of these workers could be working close to home preserving and upgrading necessary infrastructure rather than wasting time on political folly that in the end will push power bills into unaffordable territory.
    In the situation we see today, with all of MOTI bridge design/engineering/inspection staff being used up on Hwy 29, how can we expect timely repair and re-opening of vital routes like the Trans-Canada? Which job will take priority? Where does quality suffer?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. And now a 10 BILLION dollar sewer plant upgrade Iona northwest YVR BC
    Just cancel it and sharpen the pencil.
    Don’t have a company walk away from a project unfinished like North Van.

    Like

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