Erosion arcs on the bank of the Fraser at Matsqui Prairie.

Erosion arcs on the bank of the Fraser at Matsqui Prairie.

$8M solution floated to prevent ‘catastrophic’ flooding of the Fraser

Erosion threatening riverbank; new study cites defenses

Every year, the southern banks of the Fraser River erode closer to the dikes protecting the Matsqui Prairie floodplain.

The city has a plan to stop it at the cost of $8 million.

A year-long, $180,000 study found a deepening pattern of “erosion arcs,” where strong currents chew into soft silt at the bottom of the riverbank. If any were to wear deep enough to breach the Matsqui dikes, it could trigger a catastrophic flood estimated to cause over $2 billion in damage.

“I think we are playing with fire,” said Mayor Henry Braun.

Northwest Hydraulics, a consulting firm hired by the city, found the erosion is ultimately caused by sediment carried from upstream. As that sediment expands the Sumas and Matsqui bars in the middle of the river, water flow is redirected and pummels the banks. If nothing is done, erosion will accelerate.

The consultants recommended building an array of rock spurs underwater at the river’s edge, to redirect the flow. The project would cost $8 million in total, phased in over eight years. The city approved this recommendation last Monday. Now the only issue is lobbying for provincial or federal funding for all or part of the project’s cost.

“This is not something that can be funded out of property taxes,” said Braun.

Matsqui Prairie, one of Abbotsford’s major agricultural areas, lies on a Fraser River floodplain protected by a series of dikes. Past failures of the dike system, in 1894 and 1948, caused devastating floods. Since then, farming in the area has intensified and industrialized, and a future flood would risk loss of life and deal a serious economic blow to the region. The area flooded would include Highway 11, multiple railways, the JAMES wastewater treatment plant, a military communication centre, agricultural processing facilities and residential areas.

In 2013, an erosion arc came within 30 metres of one of the dikes, prompting an emergency repair that cost nearly $3 million. While funding can be accessed quickly for emergency repairs, money for preventive measures takes more bureaucratic wrangling.

Two new arcs have emerged since the 2014 emergency, bringing their total number to six since 1997. Currently, the closest arc sits at 55 metres from a dike, resulting in the closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Trail, which runs along the river in that area.

Coun. Dave Loewen noted that recent dike upgrades have cost over $11 million, with more than half coming from city coffers.

“I just find it unconscionable that we, our taxpayers, should be paying the majority of this cost,” Loewen said.

The overall state of the dike system across all Fraser River floodplains in B.C. is understood to be poor, with a provincial report from 2014 noting that “most of the existing dikes do not meet the current minimal provincial standard, and would only provide protection against smaller flood events.”

As the riverbank is the traditional fishing territory of the Sumas First Nation, consultation would be required before building could begin. Another possible option for halting erosion armoring the bank with rocks was rejected partly because it could snag Sumas fishing nets.

Stephen McGlen, the Sumas First Nation lands and resource manager, said past consultation about alterations to the riverbank has been “inadequate,” and he hopes the situation will improve in the future.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

A man holds a child while speaking with RCMP following an erratic driving incident on Highway 1 in Chilliwack on Friday, April 16, 2021. The child and a woman (but not this man) were in this Jeep Grand Cherokee which hit a barrier and a parked car on Highway 1 and continued driving. The vehicle finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

Video image
UPDATE: Bridge traffic moving normally after high-velocity crash involving logging truck

Northbound crash occurred at approximately 2 p.m., involves 6 vehicles, north lanes shut down

An undated picture of the Hope Station House. (Photo/Save The Hope Station House)
Hope council must consider all options for Station House: B.C. Ombudsperson

Investigation ‘revealed flaws in District’s process,’ statement said

The West Coast Women’s Show is among numerous events held annually at Tradex in Abbotsford. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Show producers start petition against city’s call for Tradex proposals

Abbotsford site should remain as events facility, petition states

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Former Pitt Meadows city councillor David Murray was convicted of sex assault, and is now being sued by the victim. (files)
Former Pitt Meadows city councillor sued for sex assault

David Murray was convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a teen 25 years earlier

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read