Flood Watch: Residents’ safety is the priority: city

City officials will “work hard” to assist residents living outside the dike, who may be affected by freshet flooding, pledged Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

City officials will “work hard” to assist residents living outside the dike, who may be affected by freshet flooding, pledged Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

This is even though the residents are technically responsible for flood and erosion protection themselves.

A total of 42 homes and eight industrial operations are located outside the city dike, as well as farms and First Nations.

City officials coordinated the filling of 8,000 sandbags to protect a residence on Ballam Road last week, and more were being filled at another home on Wednesday.

Several residents whose properties may be or were impacted, showed up at city hall Tuesday for the council meeting, sitting in the back rows to hear the city’s plan of action. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Gaetz addressed the residents’ request to meet in person with city officials.

“Everyone is working hard to make that happen,” she told them, as they filed out of council chambers at city hall.

Properties safely behind the city’s main dike are not at imminent risk for flooding in Chilliwack, but it all depends on the weather in the next while.

City officials to date have notified the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP), and are monitoring conditions daily. They will also be looking for sources of funding to pay for response and recovery efforts, despite the fact that the provincial response mandate favours protecting human life over land.

“The priority is to ensure the safety of those residents in the affected floodplain area,” Tara Friesen, assistant manager of environmental services for the city, said in an updated presentation.

A portion of McSween Road also slumped and had water flowing over it this week.

In response, the city had that portion of the road raised “to force the water back toward the river,” she said.

The Fraser River was measured at 5.5 metres at the Mission bridge, or “bank full” conditions  on Wednesday. That could mean more flooding in unprotected areas, and will prompt regular dike patrols.

The “isolated flooding” near Carey Point (Chilliwack Progress, June 9) was actually caused by ongoing erosion that’s very difficult to mitigate, said Friesen.

In fact, the berm that failed and caused the flooding was never under the protection afforded by the city’s diking system. An estimated $5 million is what it would cost the city to shore up the bank, and fill a 100-foot scour hole near the failed river bank.

Bank protection is therefore not seen as a “cost-effective” measure in this case, said Friesen, because of the risk of material slumping right back into the deep scour hole under the bank.

Options are therefore limited, and liability is a factor in the scenario where they would redirect the current of the river.

Coun. Ken Huttema said the staff presentation left some questions unanswered.

“It doesn’t give the residents on the other side of the dike a feeling of confidence,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of valuable farmland in the area, so what can we do as a city to get some provincial help? If we are going to leave a deep scour hole, it’s only going to get worse.”

Friesen suggested contacting agriculture ministry officials for assistance.

“I realize there’s very little that can be done right now, but I think we definitely have to have a long-term plan to address it,” Huttema added.

Gaetz pointed out that city officials have been “very busy” sandbagging, an activity that the property owners would typically be responsible for on their own.

A call for sandbagging volunteers went out this week and anyone interested should call 604-793-8713.

Weather conditions could ultimately be the determining factor in the peak river levels reached this month.

B.C. officials said they are not expecting any significant rise in the Fraser River – but the flood window hasn’t shut and “adverse weather” like a sharp spike in temperatures causing rapid melt of mountain snowpacks could change the picture.

“We don’t know what Mother Nature is going to give us for weather,” Emergency Management B.C. spokesman Chris Duffy said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

There’s still a number of days before the peak flows of the Fraser River during flood season are over, he said.

Dave Campbell, head of B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, said that “window” for the Fraser usually closes around the end of June and “this year we don’t anticipate much different.”

“At this point we’re not anticipating anything significant,” he said.

But both officials stressed the need to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the river.

“We don’t know yet how bad it could be,” he said, if there is a rapid melt or heavy rains in the Fraser watershed.”

–with files from Robert Freeman.

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