British Columbia’s public safety minister was in Abbotsford on Thursday nearly a year after the area was hit by catastrophic flooding.
Mike Farnworth said progress has been made in rebuilding critical infrastructure in the Sumas Prairie and parts of the Fraser Valley after last year’s atmospheric river.
Farnworth said permanent repairs to the Sumas River levee should be complete by the end of the month.
Farnworth says the province has contributed $1.6 million through the Disaster Financial Assistance program, along with assistance from the federal government.
Nearly 20,000 people were forced from their homes last November after torrential rains flooded rivers and farmlands in southern British Columbia.
Erin Parks, one of the owners of Klassen Landscaping, remembers the water pouring into her business.
“We were completely wiped out,” she said. “The building was there, but we were covered in mud and water down to about four or five feet.”
“We decided to clean up and not go back.”
The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that the floods caused $450 million in insured damage. The damage total was likely higher, he said, because some homeowners did not have flood insurance.
Damage to river systems
Farnworth said the floods and landslides have also caused substantial sediment movement and changes to the province’s river systems.
The province responded with a program to remove the debris, Farnworth said, adding that more than 500 sites have already been cleared.
Farnworth said an additional $41 million will be used to mitigate future flood risk in the Abbotsford area, strengthening parts of the Sumas River, Clayburn Creek, Kilgard Creek and Vedder Canal.
The province says it is also working with Washington state officials to address threats along the Nooksack River.
“The continued risk of flooding is very real,” Farnworth said. “And we want to help ensure that communities, businesses and families can be safe when it happens.”
Farnworth says BC’s updated flood strategy aims to understand risk, improve preparedness and response, and invest in flood resilience.
The cost of repairing and upgrading levees across the province has been estimated at $7 billion to $9 billion, Farnworth says.
Ottawa has earmarked $5 billion to help and the province is working with local governments and First Nations on an individual basis as they all have different capacities to support the work needed.
Farnworth said levee improvements will take years with plans based on assessments of immediate risk and need.
Relief Program Changes
Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver thanked provincial and municipal officials for including his community in the planning process.
“I have friends and neighbors who are struggling,” he said. “[People] still getting back on their feet in the prairie around here.”
Ross Siemens, Abbotsford’s new mayor, says many people in the area are still feeling the effects of the flooding and are worried about the future.
Asked about those still waiting for financial assistance, Farnworth said British Columbia had made “significant changes” to the disaster financial assistance program in the wake of the disaster. Applications can now be completed online and eligible people can receive money by electronic transfer.
Farnworth says $24.6 million has been distributed to home and business owners and about 84% of disaster financial assistance program applications have been processed. Those that are still pending tend to be more complicated or require additional information, he said.