damn these doom and gloom experts!
Published: Sunday, February 25, 2007
VANCOUVER - It has been 59 years since B.C.'s Fraser River last surged past its dikes and swallowed a couple of thousand homes.
This time, it could be tens of thousands.
"It's not a question of if it happens - it's a question of when," says Chilliwack, B.C., Mayor Clint Hames. "We're playing a waiting game."
Riverside B.C. communities from Hope to Richmond play the same terrifying game each spring as the muddy Fraser rises with the snowmelt.
But this year, the flood threat is even more real. A recent report by the Fraser Basin Council says the dikes protecting the Fraser Valley are too low, and high water could affect hundreds of thousands of people who live and work on the floodplain.
More than 320,000 people live on the Fraser Valley floodplain. Multiple dike failures could result in $6 billion in direct damage, according to the Fraser Basin Council.
"We've been lucky so far, but why do we put ourselves through this?" asks Hames. "It's like we're waiting for a flood to happen before we act - like we've never learned the benefit of prevention.
"Part of me says that if this is the way it's going to be, let's have the flood sooner rather than later and get on with it."
The mayor may get his cynical wish. A record snowpack in the mountains that feed the Fraser could, with the right weather conditions, cause a devastating flood this spring.
"There is no part of the province that has a below-normal snowpack," says Allan Chapman, head of the B.C.'s River Forecast Centre. "The data results in an early alert for high flows and potential flooding."
In Delta, B.C., Mayor Lois Jackson is already bracing for the political fallout.
"There's going to be hell to pay if that river floods," she says. "No one is going to want to take responsibility for this."
Since the federal and provincial governments stopped funding dike work in 1995, local authorities have been plunged into the murky waters of flood control. They're barely staying afloat. High dike maintenance costs have left little money for upgrades.
"It's an absolute disgrace that nothing has been done," says Jackson. "No one is listening. The entire system has failed us badly."
B.C. Provincial Public Safety Minister John Les admits disaster mitigation should be a priority for the government.
"We have to take the position that flooding is not an option," the Chilliwack MLA says. "Our first obligation is to do everything we possibly can to prevent it."
Les says he's spoken to federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day about flood control funding but, so far, the talk has not led to action.