Watching the river rise

Although there has been much talk about the flood of 1948, we’re a long way from that.

Watching the awesome power of the Fraser River during its spring freshet makes it easy to understand the flood concern.

But we are a long way away from disaster.

True, the rising waters have prompted evacuation alerts and even evacuation orders for a handful of properties outside the city’s diking system.

But as city officials tell us, Chilliwack proper is in no real danger.

The River Forecast Center had predicted the Fraser would measure 6.5 metres at the Mission Gauge this week.

If true, that would be a full metre higher that it was last Tuesday.

But that’s still a long way from cresting the dikes, which city officials say can hold back water even at eight metres.

Properties outside the dike are a different matter. And there are a lot of them. Not is only there the potential for damaged homes and services, but livestock and agriculture infrastructure are at risk.

What’s driving the concern is the amount of snow that accumulated over the winter in the higher reaches of the Fraser watershed. An above average snowpack, coupled with a cool spring, means the consequence of a rapid melt could be disastrous.

And it would be even worse if a major rainfall event occurs.

That potential has raised the spectre of the great flood of 1948.

But it’s important to remember this is not 1948. The devastating flooding that Chilliwack experienced that year was because the dikes failed.

Since then much work has been done to improve those dikes, making them better able to handle the waters we’re seeing today.

More can be done, as Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed out at press conference at the Emergency Management BC warehouse in Chilliwack on Tuesday. She said another $40 million is needed to complete the dike upgrades necessary to protect the city from a major flood scenario.

That reality will remain long after the waters from this year’s freshet recede, and we begin waiting for the river to rise again next year.

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