Abbotsford OKs flood plan, will now ask Victoria and Ottawa for money

There is no price attached to the plan yet, but it is expected to be several billion dollars

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The City of Abbotsford voted Monday to approve a long-term flood protection plan and will immediately seek funding from the province and Ottawa.

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There is no price tag yet for the plan that involves building a new pump station, 14 kilometers of new dikes, moving back dikes to create floodplains, and strengthening infrastructure that already exists. But it is likely to cost billions of dollars.

The hybrid plan was drawn from four options after feedback from residents and businesses, two of which were estimated to cost more than $2 billion.

“It is critical that we move quickly on some fronts,” said Abbotsford Major Henry Braun after council unanimously approved the long-term plan. “Senior levels of government, I think are waiting for this, as are our residents.”

The BC and federal government have put up money and promised more, but most of it has been earmarked for response and recovery costs to last year’s floods and not on building increased flood resilience.

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The plan is meant to protect the city of 150,000 in the Fraser Valley from the catastrophic flooding that devastated the community in November. And it is meant to minimize the number of affected properties and maximize agricultural land and food security.

The first steps in the plan include building a new Sumas River pump station, strengthening the existing Barrowtown pump station and more permanent repairs to the Sumas River dike that breached in last year’s flooding.

There is the possibility of some work being completed this year. But the complete plan, including a new Sumas River pump station, is expected to take years to implement.

“I am hoping that when we bundle this up and send it off to Victoria with the funding requests that at least the design work on the new pump station will begin in short order, because that work in itself is going to take a number of years ,” Braun said.

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After devastating flooding last November, several communities, including Merritt and Princeton, are scrambling to increase flood protection.

A Postmedia investigative series published in May found government efforts have fallen short of what is needed to properly protect communities from an expected increase in flooding and wildfires fueled by climate change. Dozens of BC communities need beefed-up flood protections totaling at least $13 billion, and the cost is certainly much higher as only one third of communities have a detailed plan.

The investigation found local governments, which the province had made responsible for much of the risk reduction work, face huge costs they cannot pay.

Last November, Abbotsford was among several BC communities devastated by flooding after it was hit by a record-breaking deluge of rain from a tropical storm in a short period of time, a system called an atmospheric river.

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Abbotsford’s dikes were breached and the Nooksack River in Washington state just south of the border topped its banks sending more water north. It led to the evacuation of more than 3,000 people in Abbotsford from 1,100 properties and destroyed crops and killed livestock, including tens of thousands of chickens, pigs and cows. Some people remain out of their homes. The damage is in the hundreds of millions.

In addition to providing protection from flooding from the Sumas and Nooksack rivers, the plan will increase flood protection on the Fraser River. It’s another key flood threat and poses the highest risk because of its size. Levels on the Fraser are high now because of a late mountain snow melt and warming and wet weather, conditions not seen in a decade.

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The River Forecast Center has the Fraser on a high-stream alert and much of the BC southern Interior on a flood watch or warning.

Under the new plan, about 14 kilometers of dikes would be built through the western portion of the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, an area where a lake was drained in the 1920s to create agricultural land, and along the Canada-US border.

In the event of a future overflow from the Nooksack River, water is anticipated to be spread out through the west side of Sumas Prairie. The water would then flow through a narrow, designated floodway to the Sumas and Fraser Rivers, moved by a new Sumas River pump station.

Additional water storage and a new environmental area will be created by relocating the dike along the north side of Highway 1.

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