Some Chilliwack farmers had their hopes pinned on funding coming through last week to protect them from possible flooding again this summer.
For 18 property owners living on more than 350 agricultural acres outside the Chilliwack diking system, their livelihoods could depend on it.
But those hopes were dashed at a meeting hosted Wednesday by Chilliwack officials to help residents prepare for this year’s Fraser River freshet.
“We’re right back to where we started eight months ago,” said John Van Den Brink, a Chilliwack hazelnut farmer whose crops were flooded last summer.
Government reps made it clear there would be no funding available — from either the province or the city — to rebuild the berm that washed away near Carey Point last summer.
“We will probably have to build something ourselves,” said Van Den Brink. “But it won’t be easy. It’s been left so long now.”
Most of the impacted owners agree that doing nothing about rebuilding the protective dike structure is “not an option,” he said. But for now they will just be watching and waiting as the freshet approaches.
The orphaned berm that eroded last year was originally built in an emergency flooding situation more than 15 years ago, but it has never been maintained by any level of government in the years since.
When the berm failed during an unusually prolonged high-water episode last summer, several local farmers suffered flooding, seepage, and crop losses.
The city’s position from the start has been that affected property owners would be responsible for covering flood or erosion costs themselves.
Experts have said rocking the bank at the toe with large boulders likely won’t stop the erosion being caused by scour holes. It’s a similar erosion problem to the one the city is facing at Island 22.
Coun. Chuck Stam said several council members made a point of making it to the meeting to listen to the concerns of attendees , where it was confirmed there was no special funding forthcoming.
“The news was received with some emotion and frustration,” said Stam. “We had been holding the same hope that the province would come through.”
But the city’s own diking system has a deficit of more than $30 million to bring the structures up to provincial standard, he said.
“So there’s simply no money for properties outside the dikes. And in defence of the province they are cash-strapped as well, and have their own set of challenges,” he said.
One of the cheapest of the three options being put forth by the province regarding flood protection would cost more than $1.5 million, but would not cover the unprotected properties.
“Having said that, it’s possible that building a temporary dike would be substantially cheaper than that,” said Stam.
Some of the owners are actively exploring what it would cost to do the repair work themselves. Replacing that section of the berm, would likely serve them in the interim, the councillor added.