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Cities in Canada struggling to fund climate defences

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The village of Gore, Que., had the foresight to begin preparing for more severe annual flooding due to climate change a decade ago.

That’s when the rural township 60 kilometers northwest of Montreal began quadrupling the size of its culverts to accommodate the greater flow of water under its roads.

But that still won’t be enough to weather the 2023 flood season.

“We ended up losing three roads at a cost close to $1 million,” Gore Mayor Scott Pearce said in a recent interview. The town’s annual budget is about $6 million.

Gore is one of several Canadian municipalities whose budgets are being squeezed by climate change. As high inflation eats away at government revenues, cities and towns are increasingly ravaged by historic fires, floods, heat and ice storms, and must provide additional costs to guard against bad weather and clean up result of this. Municipal officials have warned they won’t be able to absorb growing weather-related costs without additional money from the federal and provincial governments.

“Municipalities of all sizes across the country, we’re seeing the amount of damage — it’s unbelievable,” said Pearce, who is also president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The provincial and federal governments should invest more, he said. “We’re seeing more and more damage every year.”

Montreal, Ottawa and Regina were among the cities where bad weather threatened last year’s balanced budget.

In Regina, unexpected significant snowfall events and resulting road maintenance costs at the end of 2022 caused an operating deficit “for the first time in the company’s memory,” the director of financial strategy said of the city, Barry Lacey, to its executive committee in May. Chris Warren, the city’s roadways and transportation director, directly linked his department’s growing operating costs to climate change.

Officials in Ottawa warned in September that the city was on track to end 2023 with a deficit after slashing its public works budget to insulate itself from the snowfall and freezing temperatures at the start of the year. “very high” than the five-year averages.

And in Montreal, costs associated with extreme temperatures and heavy rains are among the factors that have led the city to scramble to limit costs by the end of 2023.

Quebec’s island metropolis is increasingly beset by water-related challenges — some of the visible and costly local consequences of climate change, said Maja Vodanovic, a member of Montreal’s executive committee responsible for waterworks. .

In addition to coastal, underpass and basement flooding, heavier rainfall has flushed higher amounts of detritus into St. Lawrence River, where it is drawn into the city’s water filtration system, which also requires more purification chemicals, Vodanovic said.

In winter, fluctuating freeze-thaw cycles have forced the city to lower the snowfall threshold that triggers snow removal operations to prevent dangerous ice formation.

In addition to these additional operating costs, Montreal has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars for rain mitigation measures, such as water-absorbing parks.

Vodanovic said it will be difficult for the city to keep up with climate change-related costs without additional money from the provincial government and new sources of revenue beyond its traditional property tax base. Montreal is raising residential taxes by 4.9 percent by 2024.

“It doesn’t allow us to do more,” Vodanovic said in a recent interview. “Everything we need to do we’re pushing into other departments.”

Further east, the Quebec town of Sutton is dealing with another water problem: too little of it. Drought and population growth in recent years have reduced the lakes that provide drinking water in the so-called mountain sector of the town, a popular ski destination.

Last year, officials ordered a halt to all construction projects in the area in an attempt to conserve water, halting plans for hundreds of new homes, Sutton Mayor Robert Benoit explained in a interview

The town has had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on studies to analyze the problem, he said. The latest study, published this month, concluded that underground water sources in the lower sectors could supplement the mountain’s supply. However, pending additional engineering studies, the town estimates that building new water pipes will cost up to $20 million.

Benoit expects that with grant funding and additional charges to developers Sutton will likely be responsible for only a fraction of that cost. But with flooding, wildfires, wind and ice storms, the costs associated with climate change are increasing for the municipality, the mayor said.

“What we should do is tax the citizens. And taxing the citizens, every time we do it, well, it’s not a big party,” he said.

Sutton and Montreal are among Quebec municipalities requesting $2 billion more per year from the provincial government to pay for climate change adaptation measures. Premier Francois Legault made even less: about $1.8 billion over five years.

The investments could help save municipalities from exploding costs as the weather worsens, Pearce said. “We’re better to invest now to protect against this because otherwise we’re just throwing money away,” he said. “It’s cheaper to buy Flintstone chewable vitamins than to pay for your penicillin after you get sick.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 11, 2023.


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