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B.C. reviewing municipal flood responsibility following devastating storms

The B.C. Liberal government of 2003 shifted the responsibility to municipalities
During the height of the rising waters on Nov. 15, the Similkameen River came close to touching the underside of Keremeos��� White Bridge. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)

The provincial government is opening up a review of how flood mitigation is handled across the province, after years of leaving dikes and flood mitigation to municipalities to look after.

In 2003, the B.C. Liberal government ended the flood plain development control program that had been in place since 1975, which was instituted after the Fraser River flooding of 1972.

Speaking to members of the media on Nov. 24, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said that the recent floods which had devastated communities in the Interior and Lower Mainland had brought the current government to review that decision.

The government, he said, is overhauling Emergency Program Act as well as working on a flood mitigation strategy that will be part of legislation in 2022.

READ MORE: B.C. officials urge residents to prep for more storms, say food supply is stable

“We recognize the old act was primarily focused on response and to a certain extent recovery,” said Farnworth.

The ‘downloading’ of responsibility for flood management to municipalities has in part led to the dereliction of responsibility to some flood mitigation improvements, in particular the many ‘orphan’ dikes that lie along rivers in rural communities.

One such orphaned dike currently protects the west side of Keremeos, while others are situated along the Tulameen River in the communities of Tulameen and Coalmont.

These dikes have no municipal authority behind them to make sure they’re checked and maintained properly.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen does not receive any funding from the government for flood mitigation efforts, however, it has received funding for flood responses and risk assessments with floodplain mapping.

In the Village of Keremeos, for example, the yearly costs for the two kilometres of dikes that lie in the municipal boundaries run between $15,000 to $20,000, depending on how much work needs to be done on the dike that year.

A 2019 flood risk study, completed for the RDOS and the communities of Princeton and Keremeos, looked at the damage potential if the village faced a 200-year flood event, similar to the levels that recently hit Princeton.

Were the orphaned dike to fail, according to that study, the community could face a situation leading to an estimated one to four deaths, the flooding of 62 per cent of residences, the loss of power transmission, the Similkameen Health Centre, the grocery store and potentially cause the wastewater treatment system to back-up and prolong evacuations.

The orphaned Keremeos dike was damaged during the same 1972 floods that lead to the creation of the provincial flood mitigation efforts, and during the 2018 flooding in the region, water was found seeping through it.

Further atmospheric rivers which precipitated the recent flooding are expected to hit once again by the end of the week, bringing further rainfall to an already saturated province, according to Farnworth.

In addition, the government has provided funds for flood plain mapping and for capacity increasing for Indigenous communities.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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