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Are small towns in Newfoundland and Labrador ready for climate-crisis-fuelled flooding?

Lark Harbour Deputy Mayor Jeff Parker says culverts are key to preventing flooding – as long as they’re ready.
Lark Harbour Deputy Mayor Jeff Parker says culverts are key to preventing flooding – as long as they’re ready. - David Maher

Deputy mayor of Lark Harbour says he’s worried water infrastructure isn’t ready

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The deputy mayor of Lark Harbour says he’s concerned about a repeat of devastation brought by a 2018 winter storm if more is not done to upgrade water infrastructure throughout the province.

Jeff Parker gave a presentation to the Decarbonize NL conference on Thursday highlighting the need for upgraded culverts and ditches before another major storm rips through the province.

In 2018, a winter storm washed out roads on the province’s west coast, leaving towns like Lark Harbour cut off from the rest of the province for days.

Parker says one of the main contributors to the situation was culverts being either blocked or washed out by the storm – a situation that will only get worse as the climate crisis continues and storms become more powerful.

Parker says preparing for the next storm is a complicated process, but his own opinion is that existing infrastructure isn’t ready for the next one.

“The simple answer is no. The situations that can potentially happen with another climate-crisis-led stormwater event such as these, I don’t necessarily think that what is in place will be able to cope with them, in the same way they did last time,” Parker said.

“The realization is that much of the infrastructure was put in place many years ago due to the way things are funded, and how the responsibilities of being at different levels of government, who is responsible, that sometimes the money does not provide for proper maintenance, renewal and adaptation in planning for the future.”

"The situations that can potentially happen with another climate-crisis-led stormwater event such as these, I don’t necessarily think that what is in place will be able to cope with them, in the same way they did last time." — Lark Harbour deputy mayor Jeff Parker

Parker says culverts are a prime example of simple infrastructure that can be the difference between heavy rain making it to a river, versus ending up in people’s basements. He points to the 2018 storm in Lark Harbour for an example.

“One culvert had not been maintained and had become blocked and damaged. So, when the rain came, instead of the water running down the ditch, through the culvert and down into an area where it could disperse safely, the water instead ran down the road, damaged the shoulder, and the road collapsed,” said Parker.

“Individuals were not able (to drive). At the end of their driveway was now a waist-deep hole.”

Kathleen Parewick, collaboration and development co-ordinator with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, says one big obstacle for small towns is that a lot of the infrastructure is not recorded, so it’s hard to tell just how old it is and when it needs to be replaced.

“One of the biggest shifts in the sector right now is moving things into a space where there are bona fide records, recordkeeping, practices that allow you to legitimately say that you have some data that you can look at an analyze,” she said.

“You could have information that says this piece of pipe under this segment of road is of this material, was installed in this year, and its expected useful life is X. That’s the level of detail needed.”

A 2019 hurricane season outlook by Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions projects no hurricanes for the coming season, with one to two tropical storms expected to hit the province. While the season may be normal, the outlook says one risk remains.

“The most likely impact to Newfoundland and Labrador from a tropical or post-tropical cyclone will always remain heavy rain and flooding,” reads the report’s conclusion.

Twitter: @DavidMaherNL


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