British Columbia

Urgent dike repairs needed to prevent more flooding in Abbotsford, says mayor

With major rain expected next week, critical work is needed on the breached dikes that are allowing water from the Nooksack River in Washington state to flood Sumas Prairie.

Water levels in the eastern part of Sumas Prairie continue to rise with more rain expected next week

Cows that were stranded in a flooded barn are rescued in Abbotsford, B.C., on Tuesday. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

Conditions in flood-stricken Abbotsford improved marginally Thursday even as rain began falling again, but the mayor says without urgent dike repairs the disastrous conditions of the last few days will return.

The city will be building a levee starting Friday morning with the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces, Mayor Henry Braun said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

This is the first step in dike repairs. The levee will stop water from spilling across the Trans Canada Highway. 

"We have to finish this work yesterday," said Braun. 

The levee will be approximately 2.5 km in length and might cause some residents to lose their properties. Braun said approximately six to 12 properties will be affected. 

"We are not out of this by a long shot," said Braun. "I'm not concerned about today's rain, what I'm concerned about is next week, there's predicted 80 to 100 millimetres."

The long-range forecast from Environment Canada shows the rain beginning Monday and falling into Tuesday.

Braun said work to fix dike breaches that continue to let floodwater from the Nooksack River in Washington pour into Sumas Prairie will take weeks.

While water levels have receded in some parts of Sumas Prairie, it continues to rise in the lowest 60-square-kilometre eastern section, he said, and the four massive pumps at the Barrowtown pump station are not keeping up.

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There is still more water flowing into Sumas Prairie than is being pumped out, says Abbotsford, B.C., Mayor Henry Braun. That's a concern as more rain is expected to fall in the area next week.

"We're still not pumping anywhere near the amount of water out of the system that is coming into the prairie from across the border," said Braun. "I'm still not sure people understand what's going on there."

Braun said Washington state Governor Jay Inslee reached out to him last night and the two men are scheduled to talk today.

Estimates from a few years ago pinned the costs of upgrading the aging dike systems at $400 million.

According to Braun the price tag for fixing all the damaged infrastructure in the town of 120,000 could reach a billion dollars, something he's spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan about.

"They assured me... that they are 100 per cent behind us and they'll provide whatever we need," he said. "I take them all at their word, but I've also prepared them for one big bill at the end of this." 

Overnight, 11 more people were rescued using boats and helicopters, said Abbotsford Fire Chief Darren Lee. 

Rising flood waters surround barns in Abbotsford, B.C., on Tuesday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

It's estimated 40 residents, most of them farmers, remain on their land in defiance of the Sumas Prairie evacuation order. 

Braun said the losses facing the agricultural community are unfathomable.

"They're devastated. We are talking in the hundred of millions of dollars, plus," he said. 

"These farms are second-, third- and maybe even fourth-generation farmers. They love their cattle, they love their land. And they don't want to move."

Critical work continued Thursday to repair water lines in Sumas Prairie. Braun said the major breach that forced the shutdown of the system was under repair and other breaks had been discovered. 

The next public update from Abbotsford city officials goes at 4 p.m. PT Thursday.

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