Authorities say British Columbia’s main food producing region is better protected from the effects of flooding.
Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis said Tuesday (June 20) that a $20 million program will help both individual farmers and larger communities in the Fraser Valley become more resilient to flooding.
The Fraser Valley Flood Mitigation Project commits $15 million toward communities and First Nations and $5 million toward individual projects.
“These projects will reduce the risk of flooding for the broader community,” Alexis said. “We’ll be able to better protect the livelihoods of our food producers while strengthening our food security and (our) economy,” she added.
Periods of heavy rain — so-called atmospheric rivers — caused widespread flooding throughout the Fraser Valley in the fall of 2021, causing what authorities describe as the biggest agricultural disaster in B.C.’s history in the most fertile region of the province.
According to government figures, the flooding affected more than 1,100 farms growing various fruits and vegetables; 15,000 hectares of arable land and 2.5 million pieces livestock of every almost every kind and size. The flooding killed thousands of animals while damaging crops, countless buildings and pieces of equipment. It also damaged Highway 1, a vital shipping route for agricultural producers and distributors.
Official estimates released some three months after the event pegged the total damage at $285 million. Figures released in the fall of 2022 pegged the overall insured losses stemming from the atmospheric rivers at $675 million.
Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens welcomed the funding, but also acknowledged room for improvement. “There is still a lot of important work that needs to be done to ensure that our farmers, growers and producers are protected against future floods and disasters and that our provincial food security stays strong and secure,” he said. “As a society, we can deal with a lot of things, but we can’t do without food,” he added.
Tuesday’s announcement marked a partial re-announcement of a larger package of more than $200 million toward food security at large first announced in March 2023 as the Fraser Valley Flood Mitigation Project was part of that larger announcement.
It follows $62 million from the province for Abbotsford’s new water system with a total price tag of almost $85 million and continuous, albeit slow-moving discussions between officials from both sides of border between B.C. and Washington State involving multiple levels of government concerning the future of the Nooksack River.
Long flood-prone, its banks had breached in the fall of 2021 to cause the flooding in Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie region. But American officials have been hesitant on efforts to improve flood controls because of the potential impact of such efforts on downstream communities on their side of the border.
Siemens said the community finds itself in “a much better place” than it was at the time of the 2021 floods. He pointed to upcoming meetings, where the public will have a chance to learn more about Abbotsford’s flood mitigation plan for the long-term. He also pointed to recent cross-border consultations. But he also noted Abbotsford needs help while warning of future costs ahead.
“It’s only in working cooperation with First Nations and the province that we are going to accomplish these things,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive and that is why we are having open houses that will outline a little bit more of what some of our plans are and some of the things we are working on.”
When asked about available support for farmers outside the Fraser Valley also impacted by flooding in 2021 like the Nicola Valley, Alexis pointed to a number of programs available under a cost-share agreement with the federal government, the so-called Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
“So there a number of options to help farmers, who have been impacted,” she said. “This fund today is specifically for the Fraser Valley, which really had the brunt of the experience with the atmospheric (rivers) of 2021.”