Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun told a federal standing senate committee on Thursday morning (April 28) that the region doesn’t need any more flood studies; it needs action and money to prepare for future events.
Braun was among the witnesses speaking at a meeting of the senate committee on agriculture and forestry, which is launching a new study on the impacts of the 2021 B.C. floods.
He was joined in his portion by Jason Lum, chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD).
Braun and Lum emphasized the necessity of funding from senior levels of government to improve and build infrastructure to better protect the region from another catastrophic flood.
“Those dikes that are out there on Sumas Prairie were built after the 1948 Fraser River flood, which was a disaster, to say the least,” Braun said. “Those dikes have not been looked at much since then.”
Braun said enough studies have been done, and authorities are well aware of the work that is needed.
He said an international task force between the Canadians and Americans that was formed after the 1990 Nooksack River flood – which also flowed onto Sumas Prairie – did not result in any action.
But Braun said he and Abbotsford council are determined that the issues be addressed now.
Council recently announced that it is considering four options – ranging in cost from $100 million to $2.3 billion – to prepare the city for the next major flooding event.
But the city has a limited tax base and can’t do it on its own, he said.
“Sometimes we need the money to do the actual work, and that’s where the rubber hits the road. These aren’t just tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to do what our forefathers did … We need substantial funds,” Braun said.
He and Lum expressed concern about the potential for even more devastating consequences from a major Fraser River flood if the infrastructure work does not happen.
They both said they are worried about this year’s freshet (the spring snowmelt).
“What happens to the dikes all along the Fraser that are currently substandard and don’t meet the requirements? … We have a dike infrastructure system all along the Fraser, and what happened on the Nooksack is going to be a cakewalk compared to a major Fraser River flood in British Columbia,” Lum said.
Braun said the conditions for this year’s freshet are similar to what preceded the 1948 Fraser River flood: a cool spring and lots of snow upcountry.
“All we need now is five or six days of 30-plus degree weather in May and June followed by a heavy dump of rain, and we may see something that we haven’t seen since 1948 … and that will impact everybody from Hope downstream to Georgia Strait, and that will be 20 times more damaging,” he said.
Braun told the committee that the 2021 flood covered approximately 90 square kilometres and resulted in 3,000 people in Abbotsford being evacuated from more than 1,110 properties. He said more than 250 people remain in temporary lodging as their homes are repaired.
To date, the city has repaired 167 of 300 damaged infrastructure sites, he said.
Lum said evacuation orders and alerts impacted 2,000 properties in the FVRD, which includes Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, Hope, Kent and Mission and eight electoral areas.
Lum said some 400 structures were damaged and 10 homes in the FVRD were destroyed.
Other witnesses at Thursday’s meeting included representatives from Farm Credit Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Public Safety Canada.