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Abbotsford not out of danger yet as B.C.'s next storm forms

Not again: BC expects yet more rain, just as Abbotsford was beginning to see glimmers of hope on Sumas Prairie.
evac areas

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the city was beginning to see glimmers of hope in its battle against massive flooding on Sumas Prairie, but with another storm brewing for later this week it still looms as a major threat.

“We are still a long way from out of danger,” he said Monday afternoon at a press conference where he mentioned some flood waters have receded along Highway 1.

But B.C. is bracing for another storm and Braun said Abbotsford is working with EmergencyInfoBC tracking weather forecasts.

B.C. is expecting another wet front to hit the province starting mid-week with forecasts of 80 to 100 millimetres of rain.

Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie, the bed of drained Sumas Lake, has suffered extensive flooding over 2,200 hectares of farmland when Washington’s Nooksack River overflowed into the area.

Braun had expressed concern that another wet front would cause the Nooksack to overflow again.

But progress is being made in the clean-up.

“Today there is more good news with the evacuation order rescinded for properties north of Highway 1 between Sumas Way and Whatcom Road,” he said, adding this also includes businesses on the east side of Whatcom Road.

The properties still remain on evacuation alert and there have been Rapid Damage Assessments posted on homes and businesses alerting residents whether the buildings are safe to enter.

B.C.’s transportation ministry, Braun said, has announced the eastbound lane on Highway 1 between the junction of Sumas Way and Highway 11 and Cole Road was open to agricultural essential travel.

Structural engineers have now been able to assess all impacted bridges in the area while geological engineers have assessed 88 kilometres of roadway and 229 culverts.

Crews and members of the military worked over the weekend to close a 100-metre breach, one of two, in the Sumas River diking system and succeeded Sunday.

Over Sunday night, Braun said, crews worked on the Sumas River dike to grow it below and above the water. On the south Sumas River dike, two crews have been working 24-hours to raise up the dike level. The efforts have seen the Sumas Lake waters drop by seven inches.

Braun said the city had also been able to open its flood gates letting the swollen Sumas River flow into the Fraser.

Engineers are continuing to walk the dike and identify areas where work needs to be done. As the water recedes, Braun said, further damage will become evident.

“The dike has been weakened,” he said, adding the whole dike may need to be rebuilt to a new higher standard. It could cost as much as $1 billion.

Last week, Braun had earlier instructed his staff he wanted the major breach closed before the next big rain event was headed into the Lower Mainland.

“The consulting engineer and our own engineers and the contractors have all been pouring over this plan,” he said.

Initially, approximately 100 military members, including engineers, arrived in the Fraser Valley to help communities that have experienced flood damage and are actively involved in building the new dike. They have been joined by another 500 members of the military that arrived Sunday.

Sumas Lake, which used to extend from South Chilliwack to Sumas, Wash., was pumped dry a century ago to make room for agriculture in the area that is now known as Sumas Prairie and home to much of B.C. dairy and poultry industry.

BC Electric engineer Fred Sinclair formed a plan in the mid-1920s to empty the lake using the Sumas Drainage Canal which diverted water from the low-lying bowl (located at sea level) into the Fraser River. The area was prone to flooding historically and the Barrowtown Pump station was installed to remove water coming into the area. Last week, hundreds of volunteers showed up to help sandbag the station as incoming waters threatened to overwhelm the pumps.

Earlier, a city release stressed the importance of the pump station.

“With the failure of this key piece of infrastructure, water within the Sumas Prairie will not be able to be pumped out and water from the Fraser River will begin entering the already flooded Sumas Prairie area,” it said.

The pumping station was also critical as Abbotsford had been unable to open its flood gates because the level of the Fraser had not dropped enough. Over the weekend, the gates were opened as the Fraser’s water volume has dropped.

The flooding damage has placed a demand on the need for Abbotsford equipment and rental companies are scrambling to find equipment for customers.

Abbotsford’s Riverside Equipment Inc. is fielding calls for excavators and rock trucks.

Equipment manager Daryl Quiring said, “It was busy before (with a lot of Lower Mainland construction) but now we are going flat out.”

Westerra rental co-ordinator Tony Klochinsky said he’s just as busy putting out quotes on equipment. His branch can’t get enough equipment as it is cut off from other branches located in Kelowna and Kamloops.

Klochinsky expects the demand for equipment will continue for weeks – even months – as crews work to clear away debris and repair damage.

Jean Sorensen is a B.C. journalist who has written for business and legal publications over a span of 50 years. She specializes in business, technology, and law and her articles have appeared in national publications such as the Financial Post, forestry publications, and the Journal of Commerce. She was one of the first women in Canada to hold an executive position on a timber journal and visit camps logging camps throughout B.C.