The threat of climate change is real, and the cost of inaction is great, warned Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne Wednesday in Chilliwack.
The federal cabinet minister was announcing a $45 million-project to build six kilometres of new dikes to protect Skwah First Nation, Shxwhá:y Village, and City of Chilliwack property.
“The project today is much more than just six new kilometres of a dike. It is about making sure that we increase the resilience of the community,” said Minister Champagne. “It will impact more than 70,000 people who’ll benefit from what we are doing here this morning.”
In addition to the new diking, a new flood gate will be crossing the Hope Slough and a new drainage pump station, to “significantly reduce the risk of flooding” as well as improving public safety and protecting homes and businesses from flood water damage.
“The message I would like to send is that climate change is real,” the minister noted, for those who still question climate change out there.
“If there is anyone that does not get it now, just come here to Chilliwack,” Minister Champagne said. “Come to my home community of Shawinigan. Go to New Brunswick these days, and you will see the cost of inaction is real, and is great.”
The challenge is not just preventing climate change.
“We are in a phase where we need to adapt to this sad and complex new reality. In the Fraser Valley here, you understand what I mean,” Champagne said, referring to high-water incidents and flooding of unprotected areas in recent years, and the need to mitigate.
The dollars invested now in adapting to climate change will save more in the long term. It’s better to spend a dollar on prevention rather than several on remediation later.
Shxwhá:y Chief Robert Gladstone said it was during “this time of reconciliation” that the project partners have joined forces in a truly collaborative manner.
He called it “a new day, a new era” where First Nations and Canadian citizens are “coming together to find a solution to common problems on this little biosphere we call home,” said Chief Gladstone.
“Climate change has affected our lands and it is up to us to protect it.”
Gladstone thanked the federal government for having “the courage and the willingness” to invest in the people of the Fraser Valley with this project.
“I know that what is being done here today is not just about native people,” Chief Gladstone said. “It’s about humanity in general. If this village goes under water, Chilliwack goes under water. If this village suffers, we all suffer.”
Studies have shown extreme flooding of the Lower Mainland would utterly devastate Chilliwack and the many Sto:lo communities in the area, with heavy personal and economic costs.
The two reserves on the north end of town are currently vulnerable to flooding, located outside Chilliwack’s protected diking system. But that will change with this major flood mitigation project, green-lighted under the 10-year, $2-billion Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF).
Project partners have been studying flood mitigation possibilities at a joint local table for more than three years.
Mayor Ken Popove stressed that the process to date had been “all about collaboration and working together,” adding that the diking issue has been on the table at the city for more than 20 years.
“So it’s an exciting day,” Popove said about the long-awaited funding announcement.
With more than 50 kilometres of dikes around Chilliwack, the city has an ongoing program of upgrading “to meet the newest standards” set by the province, and will be contributing $7 million to the just announced project.
“By working together we are able to accomplish so much more than we would individually,” said Popove.