Will South Delta take the lead as life on coast changes irrevocably?


Taking advantage of an afternoon sunny break a few days back, I went for a paddle off the Elliott Street wharf adjacent to Sharkey's Seafood Bar & Grille. Nothing I haven't done hundreds of times over the past three decades either on my own or with friends and (or) clients.

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But this day's paddle was different. Hard to explain, but closest I can come is to say it was a “metaphor” and a sign, at least to me, of things yet to come.

Departing Ladner Harbour my choices were to head west to Canoe Pass and Westham Island or north up Ladner Reach to the Main Arm of the Fraser River. On this day the stark contrast between these two options caused me to stop paddling, drift and stare.

To the west the sky was blue and the sun shone as bright and warm on my face as it possibly could on any November day. But to the north? Rolling down from the North Shore mountains the solid line of black clouds and chilly gusts darkened the river... and my spirits.

It was weird to see such different perspectives simultaneously, hence the metaphor. I understand now - there are now two rivers out there. One is the Fraser we have always known and embraced for trade and commerce, resource harvesting and enjoyment. Formidable and powerful for certain and demanding of respect, but still more or less predictable.

The other? This one is the “newcomer” we will all get to know in the not- too-distant future when life, close to any coastline, will change irrevocably.

The global climate emergency will demand acceptance, adaptation and, in some instances, withdrawal from areas most at risk from rising sea levels and accompanying flooding. At the end of the day, all communities like ours now have one choice if the people who live here want to keep on doing so.

We can start to plan for these changes today as pragmatically and proactively as possible. Or we can respond in the near future in a blind panic with knee-jerk reactions when the dikes are breached. We all know in our hearts that these changes to the norm will happen, and sooner than we once thought.

The Room for the River program is a Dutch flood mitigation initiative that focuses on creating “room for the river” by increasing the depth of rivers, storing water, relocating dikes, creating high water channels, lowering floodplains, lowering groynes (structures built into the river that disrupt water flow) and/or removing polders (tracts of land entirely surrounded by dikes).

Making “room for the river” allows landscapes along rivers to be restored in order to act as “natural water sponges” in the event of a flood. These measures were undertaken by the Dutch government after disastrous flooding in 1995 are now seen as a strategy offering hope for the future. (Source: Alberta WaterPortal)

The program by its very nature has been intrusive and heart-wrenching in some instances - some families have been required to leave homes they've known for generations. We can only hope they truly know that such painful sacrifices made today are helping to preserve their nation's very existence in the decades to come.

Now to be sure, anything of this scope is without a doubt a multi-year (multi-lifetime) initiative which will require participation from all levels of government. That being said, the energy and determination has to start somewhere and soon. Why not here in our waterfront community of South Delta? And why not now?

So which direction did I paddle this day out on the Fraser? Towards the light, bright and comfortable river I've come to know over the years or into the black, cold and not-a-little foreboding unknown? A taste of the “newcomer” who will have much to teach us.

Which way will you go?

Tony Dales

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