B.C. municipalities urge province to take back oversight and funding for diking

·3 min read
A road is submerged in water during flooding in Abbotsford, B.C. in November 2021. Diking used to be a provincial responsibility, but it was delegated to cities nearly 20 years ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A road is submerged in water during flooding in Abbotsford, B.C. in November 2021. Diking used to be a provincial responsibility, but it was delegated to cities nearly 20 years ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

There's been a number of calls to action to the provincial government at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Whistler this week, from hiring more doctors to putting more resources into mental health services

But one of the loudest and most repeated messages has also been one of the simplest: take back authority of diking the province's waterways.

"Devolving the dikes to local government was a big mistake. That has to change," said Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, speaking at a session looking back at last year's catastrophic flooding across southwest B.C.

"Think of our highways: if every jurisdiction had to look after its own section of highway through our local municipality, what would it look like? It would be a mess."

Earlier in the week delegates passed a special resolution urging a provincial takeover and significant increase of funding, instead of the current patchwork of municipalities having different strategies with wildly different levels of funding in place.

"I'm going to be very blunt: there are regions like the Lower Mainland, you can call it a jurisdictional tapestry, but there is a very significant governance challenge," said Bob Purdy, executive vice president of the Fraser Basin Council, a non-profit organization that tries to create a regional approach to aquatic sustainability issues.

"One jurisdiction's mitigation solution could be the next jurisdiction's flood risk nightmare."

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CBC

'I take him at his word'  

Diking used to be a provincial responsibility, but it was delegated to cities nearly 20 years ago.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, B.C. Liberal opposition leader Kevin Falcon — who was a cabinet minister when the decision was made — admits it was a mistake.

"Looking back, yeah, I don't think we handled that as good as we could have," he said.

"I think we need to work in a very co-ordinated basis, with significant ongoing investments to ensure we have dike protections in communities."

The provincial government has promised updated emergency management legislation, but has only committed to reviewing diking authority.

In the months since last year's catastrophic floods, many B.C. cities have done reviews of their diking infrastructure, and have come up with conditional plans for improvement that could cost anywhere from dozens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Premier John Horgan may address the topic during his closing speech at the UBCM convention Friday, and Braun said he was hopeful for action from him soon.

"He said he was going to change it, so I take him at his word," said Braun.

Domestic climate refugees

The session on the impacts of last year's floods allowed mayors of Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton to tell their stories of managing an unprecedented disaster in B.C., which the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated caused $675 million in insured damage.

 

"There's a silver lining to it, and that's how everybody came together," said Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne, who recounted the work of volunteers and businesses in the weeks after much of the town was underwater and without heat.

At the same time, there are still residents impacted by the disaster to this day.

"These are our domestic climate refugees. They need a place to stay," said Merritt Mayor Linda Brown, who said 300 homes are still uninhabitable, and bureaucracy and supply chain issues had hindered recovery efforts, which she said could take four years.

Fraser Valley Regional District Chair Jason Lum praised governments for working together to deal with last year's disaster, but has plenty of questions — and worries.

"I don't believe we have a fully comprehensive understanding of what damages were sustained," he said.

"As we are looking down the barrel of another season of perhaps severe precipitation events, this is the thing that keeps me up at night … we can't call them one-in-100 events anymore. They're not."