Group tasked with preventing major Fraser Valley flood hasn’t met in seven years

City of Abbotsford hopes to reconvene group organized after 1990 Nooksack River flooding

The City of Abbotsford hopes to jumpstart an international task force established after the 1990 flooding of Sumas Prairie, but which hasn’t met for more than seven years.

In 1990, the Nooksack River in northern Washington overflowed its banks, with its waters flooding over the border and into Sumas Prairie. The flood cut off Highway 1, and also inundated the towns of Everson and Sumas.

The flood triggered the creation of the Nooksack River International Task Force, which included members from senior and local governments in both the U.S. and Canada. The group was tasked with improving the response to trans-boundary flooding by improving floodplain management, restoring the 1970 flood capacity of the Nooksack, and developing a plan to reduce flood damage.

That latter plan had been the subject of the most recent work of the group, according to a report delivered Monday to city staff. Flood scenarios and response models had been developed, and a gauge installed at a likely overflow location.

But the full task force hasn’t met since 2011, staff reported, with the last technical meeting occurring in November 2012.

That’s despite the fact a 1995 report warned there was a chance that a major flood could cause the flow of the Nooksack to divert completely into Canada, a scenario that “would cause catastrophic damage to Sumas and West Sumas Prairie.

RELATED: The Fraser River doesn’t pose the only flood threat to Abbotsford

The city directed questions about why the task force hadn’t met to Emergency Management BC, which didn’t provide a response by press deadline.

Earlier this year, Neil Peters, the province’s former flood chief, told The News that political considerations have stymied efforts in recent decades. He noted that in the event of a large flood event, the prairies in Whatcom County and Abbotsford provide an outlet that reduces the severity of flooding around Interstate 5.

The Americans, Peters said, “have been very resistant to doing anything that would keep more water on their side [of the border].”

Abbotsford, though, hopes to restart work by the task force and met last November with the provincial government, a city staff report says.

The city is also requesting around $250,000 from the federal government to undertake a study that could estimate the damage likely to be caused in Abbotsford by a one-in-100-year flood event stemming from the Nooksack. The city hopes that the study would give the province important information to take to the table in discussions with American officials over “economic strategies on the Nooksack River.”


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