Caol at higher risk of flooding than previously thought

The parts in red show areas that will be under the high tide line by 2050 but flood defences should prevent complete flooding of the area from ever happening. Photograph: Climate Central

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New projections show that all of Caol, Lochyside and parts of Fort William are at high risk of severe flooding by 2050 due to sea level rise.

The map produced by Climate Central also shows parts of coastal villages such as Ballachulish, Arisaig and Kinlochleven could be susceptible to increased flooding.

Climate Central is a nonprofit news organisation that analyses and reports on climate science. Composed of scientists and science journalists, the organisation conducts scientific research on climate change and energy issues, and produces multimedia content that is distributed via its website and media partners.

Where previous predictions showed only the closest streets to the coast in Caol at risk, the new data shows the entire community could be flooded along with Lochyside and An Aird.

A flood protection scheme from the Highland Council is already scheduled to begin construction in 2020 and will stretch along the coastline of Loch Linnhe and the River Lochy, stopping where the trainline crosses the river.

The flood protections involve a rock bank, dykes on the coast, and a wall on the River Lochy side (not pictured). There will also be a cycle path to encourage active travel around the Fort William area. Image courtesy of Highland Council / JBA, created by 3D Drawing Office

A council spokesman said: ‘The one in 200-year standard of protection is a robust defence and includes an enhanced protection with regard to tidal surge and wave action from Loch Linnhe as well as a joint probability for combining tidal flood events with flooding from the River Lochy. There is also a 300mm freeboard allowance.’

Designers of the flood protection are prepared for unforeseen circumstances and say the scheme is robust enough.

‘The scheme has been designed to be adaptable, in the future,’ the spokesman continued, ‘to account for sea level rise. The rock armour and embankment have been designed to accommodate space for a future sea wall within the width of the scheme.’

Climate Central told the Lochaber Times that defences are likely to be an effective preventative measure.

A spokesman said: ‘In fact our study found that land worldwide is now home to more than 100 million is already lower than the high tide line, suggesting that coastal defences are protecting those places and the people living there. Surely other places can be defended, and at least some existing defences can be increased, but we can’t estimate how many or how much.’

Local councillors are committed to doing whatever they can to improve defences and the recently formed climate change committee of the council will do everything it can to mitigate potential problems.

Councillor Allan Henderson said: ‘Some of this will come at a cost and other things will simply be behaviour change. There  will be a range of measures at our disposal.

‘The sea defence is one of these and,  reports such as this, are one reason why Scottish Government has backed Highland Council’s proposal to begin to protect Caol, Lochyside and the Blar area.

‘Through our schools we will continue the education of our inhabitants who simply will have to change their habits, if we are not to plunge the world into this predicted perilous situation.’

While the council is doing what it can to reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, this is a global issue.

Global sea levels are predicted to rise by 52cm to 98cm according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This means that storm surges like the one which flooded Caol in January 2005 will become more frequent and severe.

Kate Willis is a marine biologist and development officer for Lochaber Environmental Group.

She said: ‘When assessing planning applications in the low lying areas of Fort William, the Highland Council needs to plan for the future and consider the growing impacts that the climate crisis and sea level rises will have on coastal communities.’

Research by Extinction Rebellion activist and former LEG board member, Andrew Squire also showed that reducing warming does more than just stop melting.

He said: ‘As the ocean heats it expands, taking up more space, and the sea level rises accordingly. Estimates suggest that 50 per cent of current sea level rise is due to this – and, as the heating up continues, so will the expansion.’