Question period was lively in Youbou Hall on May 23 after a geotechnical report produced by Ebbwater Consulting was presented on the increased potential for landslides in the area due to climate change. Approximately 70 residents attended the meeting. The report included the possible damage from a dam break at the community water system located above Youbou. (Malcolm Chalmers photo)

Slope study raises fear of landslides in Youbou and Lake Cowichan

Climate change, heavier rain falls threaten homes and lives

A report that concludes the steep slopes above Youbou and Lake Cowichan, and some other surrounding areas, will likely be increasingly prone to landslides due to climate change is raising the ire of some in those communities.

About 70 attended a community meeting last week to discuss their concerns with the report and what it could mean for their homes and lives.

Many at the lively meeting reside directly below a seven-metre high dam on Youbou Creek and wondered what impact the potential for increased landslide activity in the area would mean to them.

The report, conducted by Ebbwater Consulting and Palmer Environmental Consulting Group, was tabled on May 22 at the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s regional services committee meeting.

The report indicated that the risk of landslides on the slopes above Youbou and Lake Cowichan, which are already considered hazard prone, is predicted to rise significantly with climate change as the projected increased intensity of rainstorms will cross a critical threshold for triggering landslides.

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“There are three major areas with high probability hazards, the upper watershed of Cottonwood Creek, the lower slopes between Cottonwood Creek and Meade Creek, and finally, the upper slopes between Hill 60 and the Town of Lake Cowichan,” the report stated.

“Direct impacts are concentrated at the toe of the slopes, while indirect impacts are clustered within population centres around Youbou and the Town of Lake Cowichan. Research suggests that the region will soon reach a tipping point in its 24-hour extreme rainfall conditions that will be higher than the currently estimated threshold for triggering geohazards [like landslides].”

The report stated that the results of the geohazard risk assessment for the north slope of Cowichan Lake highlights that there are significant risks.

It said reducing risks to the geohazards in the area will not be a quick or easy task, but will require a long-term strategic approach to the problem.

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“There are, however, some actions that can be taken immediately to support disaster-risk reduction in the area that the CVRD can consider to reduce the risk,” the report stated.

“The most effective means to reduce the risk will be to retreat from the high-hazard areas; this will require a strong will on the part of CVRD leadership. In the interim, the CVRD can support homeowners to reduce their risk through simple actions, like moving sleeping quarters to the safest part of the house and by understanding when the risk is highest after wet periods followed by intense rainfall.”

The report concludes that with this assessment, the CVRD is now well placed to move plans and policy development forward in an integrated fashion, including modernized land-use planning policies, climate adaption, appropriate disaster risk and response planning, and supportive infrastructure strategies.

But Klaus Kuhn, the CVRD’s director for Youbou/Meade Lake, raised questions about the report.

RELATED STORY: KLAUS KUHN RE-ELECTED IN YOUBOU/MEADE CREEK

He said the study of the slopes above Youbou and Lake Cowichan is based on the expectations of the impacts of climate change in the Valley in research conducted by the CVRD.

“The CVRD’s analysis on climate change has been correct in predicting higher temperatures in the summer, but the assumptions of heavier rain days in the winter months have yet to happen,” Kuhn said.

“So what we are doing is playing with the livelihoods of many people in that area, including the prices of their properties, and making people insecure and upset based on assumptions with no evidence.”

Kuhn said he had discussions with residents who live close to the studied areas who wondered what the report and its aftermath will mean to them.

He said they wondered if, during heavy rain days, the roads will be closed or will people be evacuated because of the fear of landslides.

“We have opened a can of worms, but we don’t know what to do about it and we can’t put the worms back in the can,” he said.

“How far are we willing to go? Will we end up buying people’s houses? I don’t think that will take place.”

Sierra Acton, director for Shawnigan Lake, said she hopes the committee knows its members are not informed enough to debate with climate scientists who have all the facts.

“This debate is futile,” she said.

“The public expects us to make decisions based on the facts that are there and I hope we will not dispute the scientists.”

CVRD board chairman Ian Morrison said he isn’t surprised that many people who could be impacted by future landslides are concerned about the report’s findings, particularly those who live below where the dam on Youbou Creek is located.

“We are legally required to inform communities of such risks as they become known,” he said.

“We don’t have to look back far to see the loss of life that took place a few years ago after a landslide in North Vancouver, and no one even knew there was a potential for one in the area. We are seeking alternative water sources so we can replace that dam, and further steps will also be taken to deal with the possibility of landslides in that area. We’re doing our due diligence to identify appropriate actions and then we’ll look for funding for projects to mitigate the risks.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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