Flooded Chilliwack farmers watch and wait as waters rise
Farmers with flooded fields in Chilliwack are keeping a close eye on the water as the mighty Fraser River rises — again.
It's uncharacteristically late in the season but a "high streamflow advisory" was issued by the BC River Forecast Centre for the Lower Fraser on July 11 as a result of heavy rains up north.
Most of the hazelnut farm owned by John and Hanne van den Brink is under water.
"It's a horrible feeling," said John van den Brink. "We're just watching and waiting."
Theirs is one of 17 properties in Chilliwack outside the city's diking infrastructure.
"It's like a big lake out there. It's hard to believe those trees are likely going to die. They still look not too bad," van den Brink said.
They'd been harbouring faint hope that if the "feet of the hazelnut trees" were able to dry out, as it looked like they might last weekend, maybe they could save some of their crops.
"But now the river level is back up and we're right back where we started," he said.
The big question is how fast the waters will recede.
"Nobody knows," van den Brink said.
He figures they'll be flooded for a couple of extra weeks even if the water levels drop in the next week.
Facing a similar situation of flooded crops are blueberry farmers Buhd and Amarjit Gill.
On Monday they noticed with trepidation that the water levels were rising again.
"It's probably going to hit us today," said Amarjit Gill on Tuesday, about the river flow coming from up north.
Things looked a little worse on the farm than they did a month ago because the blueberry plants are slowly dying under water. They'd been cultivating them for six years.
Now all they can do is monitor the four sump pumps and make sure they're operating efficiently to protect their home.
"All this can wear on a person," she said. "It's hard watching the pumps. But it's always on our minds to save the house. It's the only thing we can save."
They're hopeful some agency will step forward to offset the water damage to 20 acres of blueberry plants.
"We haven't heard anything from the city or the province," Gill said. "But a guy from the Ministry of Agriculture was out here this week looking around. We don't know if they'll be able to help us or not."
City officials were also out at Carey Point monitoring the rising river levels early Wednesday morning.
"I know it's been a struggle for the property owners who maybe facing economic losses due to damaged crops," said Jim MacDonald, City of Chilliwack's emergency program coordinator.
"But to me it looks like an end is in sight. We certainly hope that's the case so these folks can get their lives back to normal."
It has been an extraordinarily long freshet. Typically the worst is over in the Lower Fraser system by the end of May or early June. According to the BC River Forecast Centre, the last time the Fraser has been this high this late in the year was in the 1920s.
"We should see levels starting to drop by Thursday and they should keep dropping over the weekend," said MacDonald.
In fact he doubts the river will even hit the estimated peak of six metres at the Mission bridge gauge.
"It looks like we'll get similar levels to what we saw at the peak on July 4 and not more," he said, which hit 5.85 metres at Mission.
But everything is dependent on weather systems, and another low pressure system is reportedly on its way.