Toronto's infrastructure at risk from climate change
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 1:12PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 3:54PM EST
City hall’s parks and environment committee is debating a report Tuesday that paints a gloomy picture for Toronto’s existing and aging infrastructure.
The study examined the effect climate change will have on the city’s infrastructure in the decades to come.
In response to the study, some environmentalists are calling on the city to invest in a major overhaul of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, drainage and sewer systems, to prepare for and adapt to climate change projections and potentially avoid a catastrophic failure that could cost millions or threaten lives.
The study, titled “Toronto’s Future Weather and Climate Driver Study,” looked at climate conditions Toronto may experience between 2040 and 2049, and the influence that changing weather patterns may have on the city’s existing infrastructure.
In a lengthy report, the study’s authors set the table for what is expected to be a warmer and wetter decade.
Thirty years from now, Toronto’s annual average temperature will be 4.4 C higher, meaning people can expect hotter summers and more comfortable winters, the study predicts.
There will be fewer “heavy” storms, but those storms will be more intense and they will produce greater amounts of rainfall in short periods, increasing the potential for floods that put stress on culverts and drainage systems, according to the study.
Winters will bring less snow, fewer snow storms and reduced occurrences of wind chill, while summers will bring more rain, more days when the humidex exceeds 40 C, and more heat waves (three or more consecutive days of temperatures greater than 32 C), the study suggests.
“The scariest thing it says is that our summers are going to be super-hot,” said Franz Hartmann, the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “We’re going to have over 40 days in the summer where the humidex is going to be 40 C ... our electricity infrastructure is not designed to handle that heat, nor our roads, nor our sewers and water systems.”
Hartmann told CP24 that the study underlines the urgent need to begin planning for the future.
“We have to re-examine all of the changes we want to make to our infrastructure and figure out, are they ready to handle really, really hot summer and extreme weather events like major rainfalls?” Hartmann said Tuesday. “We have to design them to be ready for those. If we don’t, then they’re going to fail when 2040 comes along and as we move towards climate change because the weather is going to get more wonky and it’s going to get a lot hotter.
“Given this report we need to figure out, how do we make our infrastructure better?” Hartmann said.
Council members look to future
The study, conducted at a cost of $250,000 by the Toronto Environment Office and SENES Consultants Ltd. and publicly released last fall, has councillors talking about what must be done to maintain and protect the city’s infrastructure from weather-related stress.
According to a staff report, the goal is to extend the life cycle of the infrastructure so it can withstand extreme weather such as torrential rain, winter cold spells and summer heat waves.
As public infrastructure is built, renewed or replaced, it should be designed under the “escalating extreme weather conditions” of today and those anticipated later in the life cycle, the staff report says.
The city ordered the study after a number of costly storms, including a one-hour rainstorm in 2005, cost the city in $47 million in repairs to damaged infrastructure. That includes the re-construction of a washed-out section of Finch Avenue West at Black Creek Drive.
After that storm, the insurance industry paid out $600 million in property damage claims, according to the city.
City hall’s parks and environment committee was supposed to discuss the study at a meeting last November, but the item was deferred to Tuesday’s meeting.
After the committee is finished with its discussion, the study will be debated by city council as a whole at its Feb. 20 meeting.
@ChrisKitching is on Twitter. For instant breaking news, follow @CP24 on Twitter.