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Abbotsford hunting for dollars for dikes this summer

Jean Sorensen
Abbotsford hunting for dollars for dikes this summer

The City of Abbotsford is in the consultation phase with residents to determine which of four engineering proposals it should move forward with to fix long-term flooding and is expected to be hunting billions in government dollars as early as summer.    

According to a city timeline and spokesperson Melissa Godbout, several public engagement sessions are scheduled for May, alongside an ongoing, online survey. The city is hoping to reach a decision on options by late spring and seek funding this summer. In the meantime, it continues with temporary dike and associated repairs and clean-up.

The four options are laid out in a report by engineering consulting firm Kerr Wood Leidal, hired by the city, with the flood mitigation proposals ranging in cost from $209 million to $2.797 billion. The options provide varying degrees of flood protection both in terms of historic events and the lands impacted in the Sumas Prairie area.

Mayor Henry Braun, speaking at a council meeting, said the city’s tax base is limited to $160 to $165 million and the costs of bringing in a comprehensive flood mitigation solution such as those proposed are higher than most municipalities could cover.

“In my discussion with ministers — including the premier and Minister (Bill) Blair — they are well prepared for these numbers,” Braun said, adding he had used the figure $2.5 billion in discussions. “They are well aware of the magnitude of the cost.”   

Blair, Canada’s first standalone minister of emergency preparedness, along with B.C.’s Mike Farnworth, deputy premier and minister of public safety and solicitor general, and Pam Alexis, MLA for Abbotsford-Mission toured the area in mid-March looking at the infrastructure currently in place.   

“The city is hopeful the B.C. government will provide funding support given the impacts that the flood had on our community and how the closure of Highway 1 significantly affected the transport of goods, services and people throughout the province and across the country,” Godbout said in an email.

Since the November breach, the city has carried out some repairs with the Sumas dike temporarily raised about half a metre to 7.1 metres from north of Atkinson Road to the Barrowtown flood-box while smaller, low-lying areas have also been filled in.

All nine dike breach or erosion locations have been temporarily repaired.

“The city is currently working on more repairs,” Godbout said.  

Of the four options laid out, options one and two do not meet the B.C. government’s current minimum standards for flood protection and would provide only limited long-term protection for residents, according to the engineering report. They are also the least costly.  

  • Option one permanently repairs those parts of the Sumas dike that were patched in November 2021 and upgrades the resiliency of the Barrowtown pump station. The level of protection offered by the repaired system is approximately one in a 35-year event (with climate change consideration). Cost is $209 million.
  • Option two builds on the first option by adding a new Sumas River pump station. The level of protection offered by this option is between a one in 50-year to a one in 100-year event (with climate change consideration). The cost is estimated at $1.297 billion.
  • Options three and four both meet the minimum flood protection guidelines in B.C. A major difference between option three and four is that option four protects all areas and utilizes increased pumping capacity. Option three doesn’t have that increased pumping capacity, and, while it comes in with a lower cost, would require the city purchase lands to divert overflow water to.   
  • Option three again builds upon option two but involves reinforcing the existing flood protection system with the creation of a floodway by relocating parts of the Sumas Dike north of Highway 1, setting it back from the Sumas River. Existing dikes will be reinforced and raised and new dikes will be constructed to protect the Huntingdon area and area east of Saar Creek. Sumas Prairie West would remain part of an unprotected floodplain with buildings there having to rely on private local flood proofing for protection. The B.C. government would have to raise a portion of Highway 1 between Highway 11 and Atkinson Road. This option creates controlled overflow areas. The area of the unprotected floodplain is reduced in part and provides for a one in 200-year event (with climate change consideration). The cost is estimated at $2.4 billion.
  • Option four provides the most comprehensive flood protection while maximizing agricultural land, food security and protecting all the areas. New dikes would be constructed on both sides of the Sumas River, extending along the border, and would create a narrow floodway through the Sumas Prairie West. This option also includes the construction of a new Sumas River pump station and three pump stations in Sumas Prairie West, as well as upgraded resiliency to the Barrowtown Pump Station.

This option is seen as providing the least impact on the agricultural land, residential properties and businesses. The level of protection to the Sumas Prairie lake bottom area is up to a one in 200-year event (with climate change considerations). Highway 1 would have to be raised from east of Sumas First Nation Reserve to Atkinson Road (by province) as well as the Southern Railway track raised (by province). Cost is $2.797 billion.  

As well as an online survey and the public engagement meetings in May, the city has started talks with Semá:th, Màthexwi and Leq’á:mel First Nations leadership, the provincial and federal governments, the City of Chilliwack, Fraser Valley Regional District and Whatcom County. The cities of Everson and Sumas in Washington will also be engaged.

The mayor said there is urgency to move forward with the favoured option as fall is approaching and there is the need to protect agricultural land, businesses, farmers and local residents.

“This has to be done,” he said at council.

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