Powerful tides on historical Shubenacadie River

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Municipality of East Hants balances potential risk rising water can bring

SHUBENACADIE: A tidal river that holds tremendous history for Nova Scotia and the Municipality of East Hants also holds a dangerous potential as climate change and rising sea levels become an increasing threat.

Director of planning, John Woodford and development officer Debbie Uloth have been trying to keep ahead of the curve for the Shubenacadie River for years.

Part of the municipality’s master planning document, started in 2012, looks at flood plain zones resulted in a new catchment area of the high-risk flood zone.

While structures, homes, and buildings already in the zone are grandfathered in, no new development is permitted.

“The consultant that we hired, we asked him to take into consideration climate change and so he, based on whatever the thinking of the day was, built that into the models which is why more properties in Shubenacadie were impacted, so there’s a direct coloration between climate change and restriction on land use now,” said Woodford.

He explained how far the science has come.

“We’ve had flood plain zoning for a long time, and when it was originally done, it’s a little bit crude that they use contour mapping, and then guys actually go out in the fields and try to ground check things and get a profile of the river,” said Woodford.

“The channel is very important in terms of how much water it can accommodate.

“You’re starting with a topographic map, and then you’re doing a little ground checking.”

Now, the science uses Lydar technology, a laser based science that reads topography.

“It gives a very accurate terrain model so we know exactly what it is,” said Woodford.

He continued to outline the difference between the two flood zone overlays.

“We have two flood plane zones, the high risk flood plane zone is based off of a one-in-20 (storm) so there’s a risk that at least once in 20 years your property is going to flood, and some of them flood every year.”

“And then one in 100 is the moderate flood zone. The zoning now goes right from Grand Lake up the Shubie River.”

While most think of planning departments to mostly focus on building development, the Municipality of East Hants puts a huge focus on preparing for climate change and risks that could come with it. Being both a coastal municipality and one with a tidal river running through it increases those potential risks.

“Climate change is really doing two things,” said Woodford.

“You’ve got the sea levels that are definitely rising, and that impacts our tidal river and the river is tidal all the way to Lantz.”

“The other thing is the intensity and the frequency of severe weather is increasing so our old assumption of a one in 20 or one in 100 year storm are kind of out the window, it’s kind of a best guess at this point what those storms are.”

Ever-changing shoreline in Noel

The coastline is as historic as the Shubenacadie River, and has equal ramifications.

“The whole coast of East Hants is basically the same geology, it’s soft sand stone, it erodes quite quickly,” said Woodford.

“It’s a retreating coast line and as the sea level rises it’s going to keep retreating.”

Some studies have shown metres of coastline have eroded in the past decade.

“We’ve had incidences where we have compared aerial shots over the years and the difference has been monumental,” said Uloth.