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Sumas Prairie Floods, Who Should Pay?

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

November 20th, 2021


It may be a sound political strategy to ignore warnings and look the other way, praying a predicted disaster happens on someone else's watch.

Especially when there's money involved.

But, eventually, somebody pays a price. As often as not "the little guy" who takes the hit.

US Geological Survey Graph November 14th 2021

It's a rare politician who spends big dollars on a project that doesn't reap immediate benefits.

Is that the case now after floods devastate the Fraser Valley?

Not only have massive floods been predicted for the Sumas Prairie, they happen on a regular basis. Numerous reports have been compiled, numerous experts warned officials, international summits were formed, dissolved, and reformed.

Very little, it seems was ever done.

Why have warnings of the risk coming from the Nooksack river just south of the border been ignored? Sure there's been lots of talk. Maybe because talk is cheap?

The latest report, the "Nooksack River Overflow Flood Mitigation Plan for the City of Abbotsford" prepared for the City of Abbotsford was completed November 30th, 2020.

The engineering report found preventing floods in the Sumas Prairie wasn't feasible. Mitigation and reduction of damage were the focus.

The report recommended:

"Raise the dikes protecting the Old Sumas Lake Bottom in combination with floodproofing each building (ring dikes) and constructing area dikes for high-density areas (capital cost: $339 million)."

What we are witnessing now on the Sumas prairie might be a good example of what inaction brings. You can toss out phrases like Atmospheric River or Climate Change or historical or once in 500 years but the bottom line is experts knew this was coming and politicians did far too little to mitigate the devastation.

That's going to cost us all far more than improving water control measures ever would have. The restoration cost will be likely be measured in billions of dollars.

Experts have warned for decades the Nooksack, and the Fraser River pose a real risk to people, homes, and property.

When you see Mount Baker ask yourself this. When it rains or snows on that mountain where does the water go?

Much of it ends up in the Nooksack river just south in Washington state. When the Nooksack overflows its banks the water flows downhill, right into the Sumas Prairie. The Prairie is the Nooksack's flood plain. That's one of the reasons Sumas Prairie was once the home of Sumas Lake.

Nobody has written more on the subject than local Abbotsford journalist Tyler Olsen

There was once a Sumas Lake

When European settlers first arrived in the Fraser Valley they saw the Sumas Prairies' potential for agriculture. They drained the Sumas Lake using dikes, canals and pumps back in the early 1920s.

The project was considered an "engineering marvel " at the time." Not so marvelous for the First People who lived and hunted around the lake they called home.

The British Columbia government sold the reclaimed land to farmers and the area became one of the most productive agricultural areas in Canada.

So far no lives are known to have been lost in Abbotsford because of this disaster, but many lives have certainly been destroyed.

Who will pay the price? Most likely you and me, but especially the people who had no idea they were on what was, historically at least, a flood plain.

Is that Fair?


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