14 Jul 2017
What you need to know about global warming and waterfront property
In light of recent events in the news, it only seems natural to start talking environment. While there are those who still don’t believe in global warming, hard scientific data shows the seas are rising. Not only that, this trend will continue full steam ahead into the foreseeable future. So, whether you currently own waterfront property or are simply dreaming about it, there are real concerns to be aware of. Here I’ve compiled (almost) everything you need to know about global warming and waterfront property.
When we hear the term “flooding the market” we don’t normally associate it with tsunamis or soil erosion. But for coastal dwellers all over the world, this is reality. Just a few months ago The New York Times published an article on the perils of climate change for real estate. They didn’t mince their words either. In it, a number of economists reported their predictions. Primarily that “the economic impact of a collapse in the waterfront property market could surpass that of the bursting dot-com and real estate bubbles of 2000 and 2008.”
According to Coastal Zone Canada (CZC), over 7 million Canadians, or roughly 20% of us, live in coastal areas. This includes the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Great Lakes. With more than 240,000 km of coastline, 70% of which is found in the north, Canada has more waterfront than any other country in the world. And, as the CZC points out on their website, human activity “many kilometres away can ultimately have profound effects on the coast.” Not only are coastal ecosystems exceptionally vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters, so are the livelihoods of those who make a living from their resources.
The Canadian Disaster Database reports that storm events causing “significant damage” are more common along the east coast than any other. Though there are no shortage of examples here in BC. In 2009, the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver suffered severe rainstorms for a period of 3 days in January. This caused flooding, mudslides and landslides that went on until the month’s end. Altogether, the estimated cost of damages was approximately $16.5 million.
But what does that mean for current or would-be waterfront homeowners?
Primarily designed to tackle sea-level rise and coastal flooding, recent BC projects have made steps in the right direction. These include upgrading Metro Vancouver’s dike system, and the placement of protective boulders off the coast of West Vancouver. As outlined in the Government of Canada’s Marine Coasts in a Changing Climate, coastal erosion and flooding has historically been combated by building seawalls and dikes. But if we are to truly adapt to a changing climate, we’re going to have to change our mentality as well.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR WATERFRONT PROPERTY
Adapting means using a combination of measures. For example, ‘soft-armouring’ is a term that refers to a number of less aggressive measures. This includes:
• Maintaining and restoring beaches, marshes and coastal vegetation: can help soften the blow from tides and storms.
• Restoration of salt marshes: work to halt soil erosion.
• Use of clean dredged sand to replenish protective beaches: preventing further erosion.
• Managed retreat: though usually a “last resort,” this option involves planned abandonment and gradual relocation of assets based on future risk assessment for natural hazards.
Soft-armouring is thought not only to be more efficient and less financially costly, but more sustainable over the long-term.
Gibsons, B.C. is an interesting example of a town following this protocol. It’s new development plans factor in both sea-level rise and the possibility of future flooding. If you are looking into waterfront property, it is essential to look into whether the area has a climate change program. A local government that understands what climate change is can make informed decisions with respect to real estate.
Also look into local regulations, bylaws, and zoning and building codes. See if there are policies to deal with infrastructure and vulnerability. This should include a plan for managing changes like ocean acidification, storm surges, adaptation and preparedness for coastal change. In your home structure it’s important to look into what your storm-water drainage system is capable of handling. Perhaps, look about 30 or 40 years into the future of the area. While you might not stay in the same home for all that time, it’s likely you will remain in the same community.
Adequate planning, preparedness and throwing your naiveté out the window is a good start. Because even when the biggest storm arrives, you will not be the one caught with your eyes closed.