Dikes unlikely to withstand a major flood event: report

Climate change is increasing likelihood and severity of another major flood, a report by the Fraser Basin Council warns

Much of rural Abbotsford would be inundated in the event of a major flood

A Fraser River flood that would cause billions of dollars of damage is increasing in likelihood, according to a new study by the Fraser Basin Council.

That the Fraser poses a major flood risk is not new, but reports released Monday suggests climate change will make a major flood more likely, and that the region’s dikes are unlikely to stand up to the rising waters.

The reports – part of the “Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy” undertaken by the Fraser Basin Council with the support of local municipalities, along with provincial and federal governments – says higher temperatures and more severe spring rainfall events could increase the likelihood of a devastating flood like that which inundated the region in 1894. While that flood had previously been considered a one-in-500-year event, those floods will grow in frequency as the climate changes, said Steve Litke, the Fraser Basin Council’s senior program manager for watersheds and water resources.

“A flood of that magnitude might shift from, say, a one-in-500-year flood to perhaps a one-in-100-year flood,” Litke said.

The report suggests that the valley’s flood defences are insufficient.

Dikes in Abbotsford, while not the worst in the system, are among dozens in the region that don’t meet provincial standards for crest height and seismic stability. Of the dikes protecting Abbotsford, several, including the Matsqui dike to the east of the Mission bridge, the Sumas Lake Reclamation dike in Sumas Prairie, and the northwest dike on the Vedder Canal are classified as “fair – poor.” The crest elevation of the Sumas dike is deemed “unacceptable,” as are large stretches of dike protecting Dewdney and Nicomen Island, north of the river, along with a short stretch of dike protecting Mission. The Matsqui dike to the west of the Mission bridge and the southwest segment of the Vedder Canal dike are two of only a few in the Lower Mainland classified as “poor – good.”



(ABOVE: View south from Mission showing the Fraser River in flood and inundation of Mission flats. The 1894 flood is the flood of record. Photo #P5673 courtesy The Reach)

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says he wasn’t surprised by the study, and that the need to upgrade flood defences has been known for decades. While more meetings and studies are planned, Braun said he hopes the report generates a sufficient push to encourage senior levels of government to step up and invest in dike improvements.

“I think the general sentiment in local government is we’ve had lots of meetings,” he said. “We know what needs to be done. We need to do something now.”

But for that to happen, Braun said the federal and provincial governments must contribute money, with local governments having neither the jurisdiction or tax base to fund the improvements.

“If we get an above-average snowfall and heavy precipitation and a quick melt, I am concerned.”

The report says a major flood could see waters reach as far inland as the Sumas Way exit to Highway 1 and the McCallum Road intersection with Highway 11.

South of the Fraser in Abbotsford and to the east, a flood could do more than $2.8 billion in damage. The area would be among the most affected, with only Delta and Richmond suffering more.

In Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope and other eastern Fraser Valley areas south of the river, the report suggests a flood like that the one in 1894 would destroy 531 buildings, generate 371,955 tons of debris, and displace nearly 50,000 people. More than 1,300 buildings would be damaged. Hydro substations, transmission lines, rail lines, the James Treatment Plant, and two fire halls would be affected. Such a flood would also do considerable damage to communities further downstream, affecting the response in the Fraser Valley.

While Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Abbotsford International Airport wouldn’t be flooded, many of the access roads that would transport people to those two key facilities would be under water.

Abbotsford has the most farmland susceptible to a flood, with more than 10,000 hectares at risk and estimated agricultural losses more than $186 million.

Earlier this year, the province announced it would contribute $65 million to a disaster prevention fund, and in April the province said $4 million of that would go toward a project to prevent the further erosion of the river’s banks at Matsqui. On Monday, the province said it will provide $1 million to help implement the second phase of the flood management strategy, which will identify which dikes most urgently need fixing.

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

Just Posted

Abbotsford playgrounds to re-open Monday

City urges public to bring hand-sanitizer and maintain physical distancing

Police watchdog investigating after man injured during Abbotsford standoff

Man seriously injured during arrest on May 21 at Abbotsford hotel room

New executive director for Fraser Valley Child Development Centre

Karen Dickenson Smith succeeds Karen McLean, who has retired after 22 years

Annual Walk for Alzheimer’s goes online on May 31

Event held every year in Abbotsford now raising funds through virtual event

UPDATE: Man from Mexico reported missing in Abbotsford has been located

Police report that Antonio Fernandez, 29, has been found safe and sound

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Most Read