Bilbao to reduce flood risk

by opening Deusto canal

The Basque capital of Bilbao has seen heavier rainfall, warmer winters and a heightened flood risk as a result of climate change. The need to adapt to these challenges and to ensure a sustainable city for Bilbao’s citizens is clear. Bilbao is working on addressing these risks through participation in the RESIN project, where the city works with researchers to find ways to adapt to climate-related challenges. 

Deusto before and after implementation of the Master Plan (BC3, 2012)

Zorrotzaurre's transformation

Since the 1970s, Zorrotzaurre to the north of Bilbao had been on a continuous social and industrial decline, with only 500 people living on the peninsula at its lowest point. Today, it is the city’s biggest regeneration project. This started with the re-designation of land use in the area from ‘industrial’ to ‘residential’ in 1995. The Zorrotzaurre Master Plan was then drawn up to open the Deusto Canal, making the Zorrotzaurre peninsula into an island. The open canal and green banks will let river water flow through, reducing the water level by one metre and significantly reducing the risk of flooding. 

Bilbao adapts

Flooding is an immediate and increasing risk for the city of Bilbao, which over the last six centuries has been affected by 39 floods. According to climate models, downpours and rainstorms will happen 10% more often in the Basque country in the years to come. By 2050, the river will be 22% higher at peak flow than its current levels. The heightened flood risk due to climate change will come at an increasingly high cost to the city: dealing with flooding will cost the city 56.4% more than would be the case if climate change was not a factor (IHOBE, 2007). 

Cost of flooding cut

The RESIN partners from the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) analysed the possible impact of the new waterway on flood risk in a 2012 study. It found that the 10-year return period for expected flood events will no longer apply, resulting in a 100% reduction in expected costs. For the 100-year return period, the estimated damages will be reduced by €162.72 million (Osés et al, 2012). Three storm water tanks and a new flood protection wall along both riverbanks are also planned, which will help protect riverside housing. 

Bilbao and resilience

Bilbao recognises the need to adapt to climate change and ensure a resilient city for its citizens. In cooperation with its partners in the RESIN project, Bilbao is on a path towards going beyond individual projects such as the Zorrotzaurre project and establishing a climate change adaptation strategy.

Excavation works on the canal are already underway. The project is set to be completed in spring 2017.