Aging infrastructure being taxed by extreme weather

0 49 Infrastructure

Severe weather conditions are taxing Canada's aging infrastructure with water damage insurance claims now outstripping fire damage.
Aging infrastructure being taxed by extreme weather

Severe weather conditions are taxing Canada's aging infrastructure with water damage insurance claims now outstripping fire damage.

“Extreme weather is the fastest growing threat to Canada’s aging infrastructure and transportation system,” said Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) president Claude Dauphin.

“We have to ensure that our road, transit and water systems are able to stand up to the growing challenges of extreme weather, such as flooding, ice-storms and prolonged freezing.”

Dauphin said that a fall meeting between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments will be critical in addressing a $123 billion infrastructure backlog.

The current federal budget allocates $53.5 billion over 10 years starting March 2014.

But, the reality of addressing the deficit hinges upon three levels of government matching funds.

Dauphin said the municipalities handle about 60 per cent of Canada’s infrastructure, but receive only eight cents on collected tax dollars.

Municipalities are juggling population growth and new infrastructure with the need to upgrade older infrastructure.

They are doing so in the face of climate change uncertainty as experienced by Calgary.

He pointed to the 2012 FCM’s first report card on infrastructure, which found that 50 per cent of municipal roads need to be renewed.

The federal government’s new regulations for upgrading wastewater treatment to secondary levels is adding another $20 billion to $30 billion to the infrastructure deficit, with much of it landing on municipalities.

Metro Vancouver will spend an estimated $1.5 billion upgrading two of its five facilities.

It is building a new $500 million-$700 million Lions Gate wastewater treatment plant with construction starting in 2015, said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s utilities committee.

The Iona facility is expected to follow with an upgrade carrying into the 2020s.

“Climate change is a significant issue,” he said of the new construction design.

“The old way of doing things is no longer acceptable. It is a shock to some but that is the reality.”

Water damage now leads Canadian property damage with $1.7 billion reported annually, said Helen Lialias, spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

“The aging network of pipes and sewers meant to channel excess water is simply unable to cope with the increased precipitation,” said Don Forgeron, IBC president and CEO, in a May speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

He said the FCM pegged the cost of water and sewer infrastructure upgrade at $55 billion.

The IBC has developed a risk assessment tool to help municipalities pinpoint where dollars should be spent to mitigate impact.

The tool is being introduced in late 2013. Currently, 20 municipalities are will use it, said Lialias.

Climate change and infrastructure is also expected to play a prominent role at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

“Infrastructure is always a priority,” said Mary Sjostrom, UBCM president.

Flooding has accentuated municipal concerns.

It is impacting where municipalities will allow development and how the construction industry builds in the future as well as infrastructure, she said.

Sjostrom said the UBCM is developing its own financial report that looks at municipal funding needs.

“It is a tool that the UBCM can use on behalf of its members and we will be presenting it to the minister and the premier as a basis for looking at funding,” she said.

In Canada’s northern region, the impact of climate change will hit hard with major infrastructure renewals needed.

As the permafrost disappears, utility pipelines, building foundations and ice-roads are impacted.

According to the FCM, Inuvik alone is facing costs of $140 million to repair buildings affected by disappearing permafrost.

But, the greatest impact is in economic loss.

Paying the Price: the Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada issued by the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy projects that the economic losses in Canada could reach $5 billion per year by 2020 and between $21 billion and $43 billion per year by 2050.

The Canada West Foundation shares these concerns.

Its February 2013 report on infrastructure, At the Intersection, relates Canada’s economic health to good infrastructure.

Failed infrastructure reduces productivity, return on investment, ability to fund new private enterprises and downstream income impacting social programs.

The report concluded that government should target infrastructure spending, where it will provide the greatest economic lift. Since spending on Canada’s $4 trillion worth of infrastructure was in decline prior to 2006-2007, the backlog needs addressing.

“There is no point in building a new bridge when you can repair an old one for a fraction of the cost,” said Michael Holden, economist and one of the report’s authors. He is now working on a report that will identify critical economic linkages.

by Jean Sorensen

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