John van den Brink pats his dog as he looks out on his 40-acre hazelnut tree farm which was under water for about two months this summer.

Top Stories of 2011: Flooded farmers want berm shored up

About 15 property owners outside Chilliwack's diking system suffered crop losses and more when the Fraser River broke through a berm.

It was an extraordinarily long freshet with serious consequences that led to flooded farms and sand-bagged homes.

About 15 property owners outside the municipal diking system suffered crop losses and seepage when the Fraser River broke through a berm on the northern tip of Chillliwack during the 2011 spring freshet.

Localized flooding of fields ensued and water levels stayed alarmingly high into the summer.

A high-stream advisory was issued from the BC River Forecast Centre in July, which was uncharacteristically late. Officials said water levels hadn’t been that high that late in the season since the 1920s. The high water was caused in part by heavy rains in the north.

A shifting scour hole is to blame for eating away the rip rap of the river bank.

City reps made it clear repeatedly that property owners living behind the “orphaned” berm built by the province in 1997 were responsible for any flood and erosion impacts themselves. There was no level of government deemed responsible for any maintenance of the gravel berm after it was built.

But despite this, city crews and volunteers undertook an emergency program of flood work, sandbagging and road work to mitigate or prevent some of the damage.

The 35-acre hazelnut farm owned by John and Hanne van den Brink was devastated by the flooding.

The blueberry farm owned by Buhd and Amarjit Gill was similarly hit hard, and sump pumps drained the water from their house.

Crops of hazelnuts and blueberries were eventually lost after languishing in water.

City officials received word from Emergency Management BC that no provincial money would be available to protect farmland outside a protected diked area, but a new report has been sent, requesting feedback and funding. But EMBC said funding could only be supported if there was “an imminent threat” to the east dike from the 2011 Freshet, and there was an expectation that costs would be shared with the municipality.

Update: A working group of city reps, impacted property owners and provincial officials have been in discussions about what can be done to prevent the flooding from happening again. Property owners recently approached the city to urge them to repair the berm, even temporarily before the next freshet hits in a few months.

Mitigation works could cost an estimated $1.1 million to $5.1 million, according to a report by city consultants, and the local property owners have asked to have the more costly option considered because it offers full bank protection.

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