Opinion: The diking dilemma

The entire Fraser Valley flood plain is a web of jurisdictions – places where the decision of one can have implications downstream

It didn’t take long for early settlers in the Fraser Valley to recognize that their location posed certain risks.

The great flood of 1894 confirmed that.

True, the valley provided fertile and well-watered land, but it was also threatened by the unpredictability of the spring freshet – when the melting snows of central B.C. surge toward the Pacific. A map of the flood plain illustrates the danger: All but parts of Sardis, Chilliwack Mountain and Little Mountain are at risk.

Ever since that flood, residents here have sought ways to control the river’s course.

They’ve had some success. However, the flood of 1948 underlined the vulnerability they still faced.

But the challenge didn’t just come from nature.

It came from the struggle to find consensus between multiple levels of government, competing interests, and jurisdictions.

Even today, confusion exists. The provincial government has divested some of that control to local diking authorities, but it still holds the purse strings and ultimate approval. Then there is federal responsibility for First Nations land, as well as the authority of First Nations governments themselves, which lie far outside municipal control.

These are not just theoretical boundaries. They denote legal and constitutional limitations and fiscal responsibilities.

In fact, the entire Fraser Valley flood plain is a web of jurisdictions – places where the decision of one can have implications for a neighbour downstream.

Still, the urgency remains. A recent acknowledgement of the potential impact of climate change has meant dikes previously believed to be adequate must now be upgraded to meet provincial standards. If a flood similar to the one that occurred in 1894 were to happen today, the damage to Chilliwack would be $1 billion.

That is the impetus behind the work being done on Young Road. It is one piece of a complex puzzle that goes back generations.

If we were to start from scratch, the 50 kilometres of dikes that protect the city might be done differently.

But that argument is academic. The alignment may not satisfy everyone, however, the system was built on consensus, and that hasn’t changed.

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