Water main break stops Abbotsford, B.C., farmers from accessing water for animals

·3 min read

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Karl Meier has spent days battling to save his property and dairy cattle from flooding in British Columbia's Fraser Valley, but he says the biggest issue right now is with local law enforcement.

"It was bad enough we had to fight the water, but now we've got to fight someone against what we're trying to do," said Meier.

Meier owns U & D Meier Dairy in the Sumas Prairie region of Abbotsford, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver.

The area is under an evacuation order because of flooding in the nearby Sumas River.

Police-enforced roadblocks have been set up around the area to prevent people from coming or going.

Meier said this is making it difficult for people to bring in supplies to the farmers who have chosen to stay to protect their business and their animals.

"We're trying to save animals here and help the farmers. We got roads that are blocked and floods everywhere. Those are the things we can't stop, but we could help stop more animals from dying," said a frustrated Meier.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s like holding a doctor back from saving lives.”

Meier has 240 milking cows at his main farm and about another 200 at a heifer facility down the road.

He says the cows spent two days in the water. "If they were human, they'd be dead."

Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, about 50 people, including some strangers, came to his farm to help with clearing flooded barns, rebuilding stalls and fixing electrical.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said Thursday about 40 people remain in the evacuated farming area, most of whom he believes are farmers who have been told to leave.

Braun said farmers who stayed desperately need water for livestock.

A broken water main is making it difficult to get water to other farmers but efforts are underway to find and fix the leaks.

Braun said he understands what the farmers are going through, but stressed it's not safe for them to remain in the area.

"These farms are second-, third-, maybe even fourth-generation farmers. They love their cattle. They love their land. They don't want to move. I get that. They want to look after their investments," he said.

The flooding took out equipment and barns, and in some cases, homes were submerged, the mayor said.

To the east, the neighbouring community of Chilliwack has mostly been spared mass evacuation orders because of rising water levels.

Travis Forstbauer's family owns and operates Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm in the eastern part of the city.

The fields on the property were flooded earlier this week but water levels have since gone down.

"We'll be able to recover from it. We lost a few crops, but most of the stuff is out of the ground. The cows had a little bit harder of a time," said Forstbauer.

He said he's experienced flooding in the past but not to the same extent of this week's flooding.

While he hasn't been able to speak with other farmers in the area, he said the industry is resilient.

"We'll pick up the pieces and move on."

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said Wednesday that thousands of animals have died as some farmers were forced to abandon their livestock and poultry.

Some animals in poor health will have to be euthanized, she said.

Chicken Farmers of Canada said 61 poultry farms were affected by the floods, but it could not yet say how many birds may have died in the floods.

— With files from Nick Wells in Abbotsford

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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