British Columbia

Sumas River dike in Abbotsford, B.C., to be permanently repaired by month's end, says province

Public Safety M inister Mike Farnworth said permanent repairs to the Sumas River dike are expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Public safety minister says other plans are in the works for dike repairs across B.C.

Homes and farm land in the community of Sumas Prairie is pictured underwater during flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia on November 16, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

British Columbia's public safety minister was in Abbotsford Thursday nearly a year after the area was hit by catastrophic flooding. 

Mike Farnworth said progress has been made rebuilding critical infrastructure on the Sumas Prairie and in parts of the Fraser Valley following last year's atmospheric river. 

Farnworth said permanent repairs to the Sumas River dike are expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Farnworth says the province chipped in $1.6 million through the disaster financial assistance program, along with help from the federal government.

Nearly 20,000 people were forced to abandon their homes last November after torrential rains swamped rivers and farmland across southern B.C.

Erin Parks, one of the owners of Klassen Landscaping, remembers water pouring into her business.

"We were completely wiped out," she said. "The building was there, but we were covered in mud and water to about four or five feet."

"We decided to clean up and not go back."

Erin Parks, one of the owners of Klassen Landscaping, says she and her business partners decided to start fresh in a new location after being 'wiped out' by last year's floods. (Murray Titus/CBC)

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated the floods caused $450 million in insured damages.Total damages were likely higher, it said, as some owners didn't have flood insurance.

Damage to river systems

Farnworth said flooding and landslides also caused substantial sediment movement and changes to the province's river systems.

The province responded with a program to remove debris, Farnworth said, adding that more than 500 sites have already been cleared.

Farnworth said another $41 million will go toward mitigating future flood risks in the Abbotsford area, shoring up parts of the Sumas River, Clayburn Creek, Kilgard Creek and Vedder Canal.

The province says it's also working with Washington state officials to address threats along the Nooksack River.

"The ongoing risk of flooding is very real," said Farnworth. "And we want to help ensure that communities, businesses and families can be safe when they occur."

Farnworth says B.C.'s updated flood strategy aims to understand the risks, enhance preparedness and response, and invest in flood resilience. 

The cost of repairing and upgrading dikes across the province has been estimated at between $7 billion and $9 billion, Farnworth says.

Ottawa has earmarked $5 billion to help and the province is working with local governments and First Nations on an individual basis, as they all have different capacities to support the work that's needed.

Farnworth said dike improvements will take years with plans based on risk assessments and immediate needs.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth speaks at a news conference in Abbotsford on Nov. 10, 2022. Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver stands on the far right. (Murrary Titus/CBC)

Changes to relief program

Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver thanked provincial and municipal officials for including his community in the planning process.

"I have friends and neighbours that are struggling," he said. "[People] that are still getting back on their feet on the prairie out here."

Ross Siemens, the new mayor of Abbotsford, says many people in the area are still feeling the effects of the flood and are worried about the future.

Asked about those who are still waiting for financial relief, Farnworth said B.C. has made "significant changes" to the disaster financial assistance program in the wake of the disaster. Applications can now be filled out online and people who qualify can receive money through e-transfer.

Farnworth says $24.6 million has been distributed to home and business owners and about 84 per cent of disaster financial assistance program applications have been processed. Those that are still outstanding tend to be more complicated or require additional information, he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Grant is a CBC News reporter based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He previously worked for CBC in Montreal and Quebec City and for the Nation magazine serving the Cree communities of Northern Quebec. You can reach him at josh.grant@cbc.ca.

With files from Joel Ballard and Baneet Braich

now