The Regional District of Fraser-Fort George (RDFFG) has received $1,050,000 in grant funding to conduct a two-part review of natural hazards and risks that could emerge due to climate change in the region.
General manager of development services with the RDFFG, Kenna Jonkman, said the district is partnering with multiple municipalities for the study, including Valemount, McBride, Prince George, Mackenzie, the Lheidli T’enneh, and the McLeod Lake Indian Band.
Also partnering with the district to provide management support for the study is the Fraser Basin Council and BGC Engineering—a consulting firm that specializes in applied earth sciences.
Phase one of the project will include risk mapping, planning and assessments, which according to Jonkman, will pinpoint flood and steep creek geohazards and inform the RDFFG how vulnerable these areas could be to climate change impacts.
Flood hazard mapping will occur in phase two for certain areas that will be identified in phase one of the study.
“We have some idea of areas that might be of interest, but until the technical experts provide us their recommendations, at this point we’ve just built into the project that we want to see some done and it will be based on their recommendations and priorities,” Jonkman said.
The project aims to provide the RDFFG with information regarding where geohazard risks are located and will provide guidance on emergency response planning and what, if any, mitigation work can be done.
The study builds on previous studies completed over 20 years ago in the Robson Valley, ranging from the 1990s to the early 2000s.
“This project will go in and revitalize that information and provide us a pathway forward starting from 2023 and 2024,” Jonkman explained.
“Our technical experts tell us a study is impacted by development, natural events, and other factors. So a study that was done in 1999, may need to be re-evaluated based on what the ground looks like today,” she continued.
After a landslide in Valemount in 2021 nearly cut off access to the village’s only source of drinking water and a mudslide in McBride about a year earlier resulted in at least five families needing to evacuate their homes and over 30 residents being trapped on the other side of the slide having to shelter in place, Jonkman said natural disaster mitigation is a high priority for local government officials.
“I think it's top of mind for all local governments right now is identifying risks, knowing what they are, and then working through that piece around mitigation and preparedness,” she told Rocky Mountain Goat News.
Local real estate agent Shelly Battensby said the previous geohazard studies were also precipitated by environmental events, leading to an overarching study known as the Robson Valley Land Hazard Study.
Battensby said some landowners who’ve had to rely on that old data have bought property only to find they couldn’t build on it.
“What we've seen in real estate when someone purchases a property, they're now kind of in a catchment of whatever category of hazards there are, for various reasons,” Battensby said.
She explained if a buyer wants to develop their land but finds their new property is in a medium to high hazard area, they need to conduct their own individual geotechnical assessment, which she said puts a lot of onus on the landowner.
Battensby said she’d like the new study to be more specific and have a narrower focus, which she believes would take some of the burden off landowners.
“I would love to see more specifics within the study, but I also recognize that that's not necessarily logistical,” she said.
Much like our climate, Battensby said real estate is ever-evolving. She believes the new study’s findings will be another tool that will allow the region to respond to climate change.
“The reality is, it's happening. It's here. Whether it's forest fire mitigation or mudslide issues. We are in a mountainous valley—we've got trees, we've got water, and we’ve got gravity,” she said.
Jonkman said the project is slated to begin this September, with work anticipated to be fully completed by the summer of 2025.
“That will include phase one, and any phase two work that we do and it will have full reporting and mapping will have to be done by July 2025,” Jonkman clarified, adding that the results of the study will be provided to the district as they become available, meaning the RDFFG will have a full report along with recommendations in hand by July of 2025.
Funding for the project came from the UBCM's Disaster Risk Reduction-Climate Adaptation program.
Spencer Hall, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Goat News, The Rocky Mountain Goat