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B.C. extreme weather forecasting will take years to build

B.C. Wildfire Service to extend work to fire prevention
Repair work continues on Highway 8 Feb. 10, 2022 after mid-November flooding shifted the course of the Nicola River and destroyed sections of the highway south of Merritt. (B.C. transportation ministry photo)

The B.C. government has committed more than $2 billion to prepare the province for future extreme weather events, but improved warning of flooding threats will take years to develop, Environment Minister George Heyman said Thursday.

B.C.’s 2022 budget includes money for improved mapping, snowpack and river forecasting as well as reconstruction and wildfire prevention work, but Heyman warned it’s an enormous job that requires new monitoring and data systems.

“We will be kicking that off late winter, early spring, setting up the networks that we need to do that monitoring and preparation,” Heyman said Feb. 24. “It will be ongoing. It will obviously not all be in place in order to take the data and make some of the predictions that we would all hope that we would have for this summer, but it is a critical piece of being prepared for the years to come.”

The province’s climate preparedness and adaptation strategy has been in the works since last year, and Heyman said it will be released soon. Environment Canada is also working on forecasting tools to provide more warning of “atmospheric river” events like the one that devastated southern B.C. with record rain in November.

The province is still struggling with recovery from flooding in Abbotsford and destruction of highway routes in the Fraser Canyon, Coquihalla and Nicola Valley. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said most people in Merritt have been able to return home, but work continues on houses that have been destroyed or determined to be uninhabitable, such as at Lytton where fire swept through the village in late June.

VIDEO: Crews work round the clock to repair Coquihalla Highway

RELATED: Delays push cost to rebuild Lytton over $100 million

The budget contains $120 million for local governments and Indigenous communities for emergency preparedness, and Farnworth said that can include mitigation work like constructing culverts to protect roads from sudden water surges.

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said an additional $145 million over three years for emergency management and the B.C. Wildfire Service will allow forest firefighters to stay on year-round to work on prevention and fire prevention work. Another $90 million is budgeted for the Fire Smart program, which provides grants to local governments for fuel management projects around communities.


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