Somebody finally put a price tag on the potentially devastating impact of freshet flooding on Fraser Valley agriculture.
A new study by Fraser Valley Regional District, with the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative, estimates that annual flood losses could top $1.1 billion in the years to come.
The report measures the economic value of ag production in the valley, and looks at potential costs and losses to the sector under different flood scenarios.
“The economic value of agriculture in this region is more than $3 billion dollars a year,” said FVRD chair Jason Lum. “With a major freshet flood, almost a third of the sector could be impacted, and that doesn’t include all of the non-agricultural infrastructure.”
FVRD reps have pushing for a regional approach to flood management, and “laying the groundwork for serious investment in flood mitigation with our partners,” Lum added.
Almost 30,000 hectares of Agricultural Land Reserve lands are considered vulnerable to freshet flooding in the Fraser Valley.
Ranking and then implementing improvements to both structural and non-structural flood mitigation measures will take on the highest priority, the chair said.
The Fraser River typically sees peak “freshet” flows between mid-May and early July, with the biggest risk of flooding when there’s heavy snowpack and sudden warm temperatures, sometimes rain, leading to higher peak flows.
Modelling shows that the magnitude and frequency of these “peak flow” floods could be on the rise in the coming years.
A major flood event, similar to the historic flood in 1894, would mean over $800 million in damage to agricultural crops, buildings and equipment. The economic impacts to FVRD communities due to agricultural flood losses would be $1.1 billion.
The FVRD is home to the most intensively farmed area in Canada. It has 2.4 per cent of the total land farmed in B.C., and 14 per cent of the province’s farms, but generates 38 per cent of the provincial gross annual farm receipts.
For blueberry grower Jason Smith, putting a dollar value on agriculture in the region is crucial to mitigate the risks of flooding.
“As a grower, I’m extremely worried about the extreme weather. For perennial crops, it is not only the threat of flooding but also seepage during the growing season that kills the plants roots and makes the fields impassable for harvest,” he said, adding that some of his fields that flooded in the 2012 freshet still have not fully recovered.
“I am glad to see that this study has been completed and shows the economic value of agriculture in the FVRD. This was a necessary step so others outside of the farming community realize how important agriculture is in our area.”
While implementing upgrades to critical dikes is identified as a high priority for flood protection, the report suggests that there is no magic bullet to increasing agriculture’s resilience to flooding in the valley, but rather several measures will have to be introduced over time.
For more information on the Fraser Valley Regional Adaptation Strategy: http://www.bcagclimateaction.ca/adapt/regional-strategies/