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Abbotsford at risk of flooding from nearby U.S. river, mayor comments on Trudeau visit

The Nooksack River is projected to flood on Sunday, Nov. 28 according to Whatcom County officials
PM in Abbotsford
Abbotsford’s mayor Henry Braun met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan on Friday, Nov. 26.

Abbotsford should be able to handle heavy rains recently forecasted for the region, although overflow from a river in Washington State is a different story.

Henry Braun, Abbotsford’s mayor, raised this issue at a press conference held on Saturday, Nov. 27 after receiving information from Whatcom County officials. The county received information from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the Nooksack River will reach a moderate flood stage on Sunday, Nov. 28.

Residents prepared to evacuate

The river is expected to rise as a result of damage dealt to levee systems and significant sediment build-up from previous storms and NOAA reports there is potential for the overflow to impact Sumas Prairie. 

"This makes it challenging to predict the magnitude of the floodwaters into Abbotsford in the coming days," Braun said. 

While sandbagging efforts are carried out in Whatcom County, Braun warned residents they need to be prepared to leave on short notice. 

As well, Abbotsford is forecasted to receive up to 120 mm of rain by Sunday morning after another atmospheric river deluge.

The good news?

  • Since Friday (Nov. 26) conditions across the flood zone have remained stable and the Barrowtown pump station is fully operational.
  • Floodwater levels dropped in the Sumas lake bottom by nine inches in 24 hours.
  • Canadian Armed Forces are expected to have completed sandbagging along the southern rail line in Huntington Village by the afternoon of Nov. 27
  • As of Nov. 27 repairs to the dike near Atkinson road are 95 per cent complete. Efforts to raise the dike by half a metre are 30 per cent complete.

Abbotsford not alone

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C.'s Premier John Horgan and other senior government officials paid a visit to Abbotsford on Nov. 26. There, Braun said he impressed upon them the importance of supporting critical diking and drainage infrastructure.

"If we are not supported and the Barrowtown pump station fails, we expect there will be eight feet or more of water over Trans Canada Highway 1 for months,” Braun said, adding such damage could put the highway out of commission for up to a year.

"It is vital that we have the support of the federal government today as well as in the future,”  Braun continued. 

Braun also asked the Prime Minister to let the Canadian Armed Forces, who have brought much-needed support in sandbagging efforts and dike inspections, to stay.

"Prime Minister Trudeau was very clear with me and he wants all Abbotsford residents to know that he and his government are here to support us with whatever we need and that we are not in this alone," Braun said.

Federal and provincial support

Braun was glad to see calls for provincial support being heard when premier John Horgan acknowledged that diking systems cannot be solely the responsibility of municipalities. 

"Dikes, like highways, are essential components of local infrastructure systems that significantly support multiple communities. These, therefore, require oversight and support by senior levels of government," Braun said.

"I was grateful to hear that premier Horgan understands this. And I'm hopeful that we will see future support for our critical infrastructure."

Following the Friday meeting in Abbotsford, Ottawa and the B.C. provincial government have agreed to establish a joint committee of ministers dealing directly with disaster response and climate change resiliency. 

“We need to rebuild more resilient infrastructure that’s going to be able to handle 100-year storms every few years, because that seems to be the pattern we are on,” Trudeau said at the press conference. “It’s going to be expensive, but it would be far more expensive to do less or not to do enough.”

With files from Canadian Press