The breaking of a dam in Abbotsford, BC, which contributed to catastrophic flooding across the Sumas area was predicted in a 2015 review for the provincial government.
The dam was “too low”, “substandard” and “likely needs to be updated” according to a report, written by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants for the Ministry of Forestry, which looked at 74 dams across the lower continent.
The report looked at primates stretching for over 500 kilometers, which make up about half the total length of those in the province.
The results were bleak: 71 percent of them could be expected to fail during a significant “design event”, while none of the dam segments meet seismic standards throughout their length.
Moreover, half of the province’s 178 orphan dams that are not under the jurisdiction of any government were in “poor or failed” condition. Improving them would cost $ 865 million, according to a separate 2020 report for the province.
“We have always known that Fraser can generate major floods, but we must look ahead and not increase our exposure and vulnerability over time,” said Steve Litke, a senior manager at the Fraser Basin Council, who helps educate organizations and governments about healthy watersheds throughout the southwest BC
With numerous atmospheric rivers forecast for the Lower Continent this weekend, the stability of these dams and why so many are considered in poor condition is once again under consideration.
Many municipalities are under flooded areas
Since the late 19th century, ambushes have been installed throughout the lower continent. They are the main protection against major damage in the region’s flood zone, which includes almost all of Delta, Richmond, Pitt Meadows and Kent, and many from Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
Litke says part of the reason for the poor estimates is decades of consumption, but also much higher engineering and environmental standards. He added that a lot of work has been done locally and regionally to improve the flood map and reduce risks.
But that does not solve the problem of paying for improvements, which now falls entirely on municipalities, which have limited ways to increase revenue, competing against each other for funding from the highest levels of government.
“We can never tax our way from this. We would bankrupt the city,” Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall said last year after a staff report said it could cost about $ 121 million.to improve city primates.
A city report in 2020 said “almost all” of its damswill “overcome or fail in the most extreme flood events.”
The 2015 provincial report surveyed five Pitt Meadows The dams and found them all in less than right or bad condition and all had a worse rating than the Sumas Lake Reclamation Dam that burst this month.
While 86 percent of Pitt Meadows is part of the region’s flood zone, the municipality has historically struggled to obtain funding for improvements due to its low population base.
“Our dams are old 1930s, 1940s that are not good enough,” Dingwall said.“We really need federal dollars. That’s the end.”
What else can be done?
Flood mitigation expertssay ambushes are not a silver bullet and point to other protections that municipalities can use.
These include restoring wetlands and dunes, changing land use policies to limit the amount of buildings and economic activity in the most vulnerable areas, tightening regulations in hazardous areas and reorganizing existing dams to leave more space Rivers to expand.
“There is this perceived certainty called the ‘lever effect’ that makes people think, ‘Once the dam enters, we are safe and we can develop a lot,'” said Lilia Yumagulova, who studies natural disaster resistance and who wrote her doctorate. Vancouver Metro Flood Management System.
“What are they [other] options? “How can we reduce the risk of disasters and build more resilience to floods?”
In response to questions from CBC News, the provincial government said it has spent nearly $ 103 million to support dam improvement and risk assessment projects since taking office, though, at a recent press conference, the Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth acknowledged that “there is more to do”, promising a new strategy and legislation for flooding in 2022.
Meanwhile, municipalities like Pitt Meadows know they have work to do, while acknowledging they are playing to achieve.
“We did our homework. We know the case,” Dingwall said. “Now we just need dollars.”
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