Flood protection: Pay now, or pay later

Former Fraser Valley mayors say it's time to move forward with a regional response to flood risk mitigation

One of the stark realities of living in Chilliwack is the fact most of us live on a flood plain.

Our history is already punctuated by two momentous floods, one in 1894 and another in 1948.

Since then an extensive flood mitigation system has evolved around the city. That system has helped us dodge smaller (but nonetheless significant) flooding events that could have damaged property and endangered lives.

Just last year property outside the city’s dike network was under water as the Fraser River breached its banks.

And few will forget the sandbagged utilities and packed public meetings in 2007 when the waters inched toward the top of the city’s dikes.

This year, the Fraser has remained relatively tame.

But as a group of former mayors said Wednesday, it’s not a matter of if the Fraser will once again threaten, but when.

They are not being alarmist; they are simply voicing a reality made all the more clear by the devastation seen in so many parts of southern Alberta.

In Calgary alone, the repair bill for the city’s damaged infrastructure is expected to top $265 million. The towns of High River, Canmore, Bragg Creek and the Siksika First Nation are all facing proportionate costs as they rebuild.

But the financial impact isn’t in reconstruction alone. Indeed, banking and insurance firms estimate the total economic damage could be $3 billion to $5 billion, with a wounded GDP for June and July and $2 billion in lost output for the entire Canadian economy.

History suggests the Fraser River poses an even greater risk. Although much has been done to lessen that risk, a diking system is only as strong as its weakest point.

That’s why the regional approach to flood risk mitigation must be pressed. It’s been talked about for years, but there remain obstacles and cross-jurisdictional challenges that have slowed progress.

As the former mayors pointed out Wednesday, it’s time to get on with it.

The threat of another major flooding event only grows with time. And as they reminded us this week, either we pay now, or pay later.