Farmers along lower Fraser River prepare for flooding
Thu., May 17, 2018
NICOMEN ISLANDâ"Farmers along the banks of the lower Fraser River were preparing for possible flooding Wednesday as water levels on the iconic river continued to rise.
On Barnston Island, located between Pitt Meadows and Surrey B.C., farmers moved livestock to safer ground after Metro Vancouver officials issued an evacuation alert for the island that morning. Further east, on Nicomen Island just outside of Mission, dairy farmer Sydney Stoker was hopeful he wouldnât have to do the same.
âItâs a stronger possibility than I would like,â he said.
The Mission gauge, one of several locations where the Fraser River levels are monitored, was at 5.7 metres on Wednesday morning and officials expect it could reach six metres by Friday and 6.6 metres by the middle of next week.
Floodwaters continue to rise elsewhere in the province as well, including in Grand Forks in south-central B.C., where extreme flooding has forced thousands from their homes and local officials have called on the federal government to send in the army to assist worn out emergency responders.Article Continued Below
The province has committed to match donations to the Red Cross up to $20 million to help those affected by the flooding.
On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan and MLAs from all three parties toured areas already affected or at risk of flooding in the Fraser Valley.
âWe stand together united to make sure that we leave no stone unturned, no sandbag unfilled and whatever resources are needed we all commit to make sure that theyâre there for the people in the region,â Horgan told reporters.
While there is a higher degree of confidence that the region will not experience the same level of flooding seen at other periods in the last 70 years, risk remains as higher-than-normal temperatures could cont inue to force a rapid melt of the snowpack. Any rain could pose a further challenge.
On Nicomen Island, 72 of Stokerâs 177-acres are outside the dike system and heâs already seeing some flooding. With the Fraser River about to crest the bank he and his oldest son Matthew were scrambling to harvest as much grass feed as they could for their dairy cows Wednesday afternoon.
âThis is the first time Iâve ever cut grass at 21 days,â Stoker said, standing on the banks of the river, eyes to his field. Normally, heâd wait until 28 days, but even waiting until Thursday it could be too late.
Heâs already lost some of the crop from water seeping up through the ground. If the whole crop went under it would mean $20,000 to $30,000 in losses.Article Continued Below
Stoker bought this farm in 1991. It flooded in 1997, in 1999, in 2007 and then again in 2012.
While the water levels were about eight inches from flooding the barn in 2007, he evacuated his co ws just in case. Heâs hopeful he wonât have to do it again, but it depends on the weather. If the temperatures stay a bit cooler that will help, but heavy rains could force his hand.
Stoker has roughly 160 cows in a barn outside dike protection and evacuating them carries its own set of risks, including injury.
âThe biggest challenge is trying to do it in such a way that the animals donât get too excited,â he said.
While most herds are well vaccinated, thereâs always the risk of exposing his animals to disease if theyâre mixed with another herd. It can also mean a drop in milk production.
In 2007 Stoker was able to move his herd to a property in Matsqui where another farmer had room. If he has to evacuate them this year, heâll start by moving them to his land inside the dike.
But the dikes are substandard. The Fraser Valley Regional District has a $10.5 million grant to upgrade some of them on Nicomen Island but it would cost $100 millio n to get them all up to par.
If one of those dikes breached it would put their property inside the dike at risk too and leave them little time to get the cows out.
âLetâs put it this way, there would be a lot of cows making a trip across Deroche,â Stoker said.
At this point, Stoker is doing what he can to prepare for whatâs to come and is hopeful this yearâs freshet along the lower Fraser wonât be as bad as whatâs happening elsewhere.
In south-central B.C., which has experienced the worst of the flooding so far, emergency response workers in Grand Forks are worn out and need help, said Roly Russell, the chair of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District.
âItâs awful whatâs going on here,â Russell said. âWeâre bearing with it, but people are exhausted.â
In total Russell estimates that roughly 100 homes have so far been lost for good to the flooding, with 3,000 people still under evacuation.
âThe request (for milita ry support) has gone up the chain of command. Hopefully someone on the other side of the country hears what we need,â Russell said.
Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank
Jesse Winter is an investigative reporter based in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @jwintsRead more about: TOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.NEW NEWSLETTERHEADLINESSIGN UPSource: Google News