New Brunswick Tribune

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Prior to the B.C. floods, years of warnings about inadequate flood plans were ignored

Key takeaways:

  • Before last week’s tragic flooding, years of warnings concerning insufficient flood protection and mitigation measures had gone unheeded.

According to a Vancouver-based flood management consulting business, years of warnings about inadequate flood prevention and mitigation measures were ignored before last week’s catastrophic flooding.

Ebbwater Consulting cautioned that the “existing model for flood risk governance in B.C. is broken” in a report earlier this year and encouraged the province to take a more proactive approach.

According to Tamsin Lyle, the firm’s principal and founding engineer, this comes after years of anxiety about more than 1,100 kilometers of intermittently maintained dikes around the province.

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“We’ve been sharing this information for the last 20 to 30 years,” she told Global News, “offering updates on what we anticipate it would cost if there was a significant flood in the Fraser Valley or elsewhere in the country or province.”

“However, until there is an actual occurrence, most of that falls on deaf ears.”

According to the province, dike breaches contributed to one of the most devastating floods in B.C. history in 1948.

The Fraser Valley disaster — sections of which are underwater again this week – claimed the lives of numerous people, destroyed 2,000 houses, and cost $210 million in damage.

Dike breaches played a big part this time, with Abbotsford, British Columbia breaches contributing to the Sumas Prairie’s evacuation and floods.

In the Lower Mainland alone, there are 600 kilometers of dikes, yet they are maintained by various governments, farmers, and other authorities or stakeholders, resulting in irregular upkeep.

Some dikes are “orphaned,” meaning they don’t get any attention.

“There are a lot of them that are subpar, and we know they fail when they aren’t maintained, and they fail even when they are,” Lyle added.

“Dikes aren’t the best option for all flood-prevention issues.”

Years of warnings about poor flood plans ignored prior to B.C. floods

Ebbwater Consulting has recommended the British Columbia government overhaul its flood management “paradigm” and build a clear and consistent authority structure that outlines who is responsible for what.

According to its 2021 report, this entails a central information hub inside the provincial government that communicates with Ottawa and creates best practices across the province and regional hubs, focused on specific watersheds and supporting marginalized populations.

“We need to adjust how we govern the problem to manage the reality that it is a classic, wicked, and systemic problem to enable this massive transformation,” Lyle added.

According to Lyle, British Columbia’s approach to flood management reflects the “great engineering era of the 1950s,” There are now “many different solutions” the province should investigate.

She mentioned constructing more flood-resistant homes without drywall or carpeting, modifying land-use patterns, and removing important infrastructure and vulnerable individuals from potential disaster zones as examples.

“It’ll require billions of dollars just to restore us to a functional state of being,” Lyle predicted.

“It’s an urgent item we need to think about in terms of planning,” she says, “but I don’t think we should act right now while we’re all sad and miserable because we’ll make horrible choices at this moment.”

According to Environment Canada, between Wednesday night and next Tuesday, three more atmospheric rivers are expected to reach the province, potentially worsening the current flooding situation.

Source: Global News

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