British Columbia

Metro Vancouver prepares for possibility of $30B flooding in Fraser Valley

The Fraser Basin Council says major flooding throughout the Fraser Valley could cause up to $30 billion in damages and displace up to 300,000 people.

Fraser Basin Council and municipal officials say billions needed to upgrade infrastructure

Richmond, B.C., is surrounded by water and is one of many municipalities in the Lower Mainland that would be devastated by floods. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Richmond, B.C., Coun. Harold Steves knows from personal experience how devastating a flood can be. 

Steves was 11 years old during the catastrophic 1948 Fraser River flood, when 22,000 hectares of farmland disappeared throughout the Lower Mainland. 

Kids in Richmond, Steves among them, delivered sandwiches his mother made for the workers who were filling sandbags to keep the water out. 

"Everyone had to volunteer — my dad, aunts and uncles," he said. 

Today, Steves serves on Metro Vancouver's climate action committee, which met Friday to discuss the likelihood and potential consequences of major flooding throughout the Fraser Valley. 

Harold Steves, a city councillor in Richmond, B.C., was a boy when the 1948 floods hit his hometown. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

The Fraser Valley's largest flood on record was in May 1894. The flood in 1948 was the second largest: about 2,000 homes were destroyed and 16,000 people were evacuated. 

There have been two major changes since then that would likely make flooding on that scale much worse. First, there are far more people and businesses nestled along the Fraser River. Second, the impacts of climate change mean higher river and sea levels and stronger storm surges. 

According to Steve Litke, a senior manager with the Fraser Basin Council, major flooding throughout the Fraser Valley could cause up to $30 billion in damages and displace up to 300,000 people.

"I hope nature co-operates and we can get ahead of this before the next big flood," Litke said after he briefed the committee on the latest mapping projections. 

Projection maps of a major flood show most of Richmond would be under water. (Fraser Basin Council)

Part of Litke's job is to get 26 municipalities, two regional districts and about 30 First Nations to co-operate and convince multiple levels of government to invest about $9.5 billion to upgrade critical infrastructure like dikes and sea berms.

"There will be even greater costs if we do nothing and there are catastrophic damages," Litke said. 

Current funding for those improvements is "ad hoc, insufficient, unpredictable and inconsistent," he told the committee Friday. A troublesome prospect given that climate change is expected to increase the size and frequency of floods.

Steve Litke, a senior manager with the Fraser Basin Council, says major flooding from the Fraser River could cause up to $30 billion in damage. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

The Fraser Basin Council has been working towards the preparations since 2014 when it first began identifying the risks of flooding throughout the region. 

Now in the second phase of its strategy, the organization is working to develop regional priorities and recommendations for funding. 

Municipalities like Richmond, which the Fraser Basin Council predicts will be completely under water if the worst projections were to come true, can't wait much longer. 

Steves said his community has already invested millions to upgrade just a tiny fraction of its many dikes. He would like to see the higher levels of government step in to do more. 

He has seen it happen before. Steves said after the 1948 floods millions of dollars poured in to support construction that lasted for decades. 

"I know that we can do it, and we're already ahead of the game," Steves said. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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