The Fraser Valley flood, as it happened

Our flood coverage from last week

By Tyler Olsen | November 21, 2021 |8:48 am

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NOTE: This is an archive of past Fraser Valley Current breaking news flood coverage. Updates from more than a week ago, will be placed here. For our latest stories, click here.


Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 8pm

With a new storm bearing down on the region, American officials have warned residents that the Nooksack River’s banks may less stable as a result of the last flood. The Nooksack is expected to enter ‘moderate flood’ stage on Sunday, and the forecast has continued to grown more ominous.

A moderate flood would normally not pose a significant threat to the Fraser Valley. But not only are fields inundated, Whatcom County officials have now warned that the existing flood protections may be less robust than normal.

“Damage to levee systems from previous storms may result in greater impacts to the floodplain areas than would typically be experienced at these river levels,” the city wrote in a press release issued Friday evening (read it here). “There is much uncertainty as a result of last week’s flood flows. However, based on the latest flood models, Sunday morning’s predicted flows are likely high enough to overtop Main Street in Everson. Everson impacts could happen very early on Sunday morning. The potential also exists for this to impact Sumas.”

Sumas was swamped with water last week, and lies between the Nooksack and Sumas Prairie. Public work officials have been trying to “secure vulnerable roads and levees,” the City of Sumas reported earlier on Friday.

National Guard troops are expected to arrive tomorrow to aid with sandbagging, transportation, and support for local communities.

We have a special Saturday edition of The Current’s daily newsletter going out first thing tomorrow morning with a rundown of all our coverage so you don’t miss anything. Subscribe below:

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Here’s the latest forecast, as of Friday afternoon:

📸 Nooksack River Forecast

continues below

Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 7pm

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan spoke to reporters Friday evening about the flooding situation.

How long should people in the Fraser Valley expect to wait before the dikes that protect them are upgraded? We put that question to Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last night during a press conference. And they didn’t really answer.

But Horgan did say bluntly that things need to change in how flood protections are funded in BC.

​“The diking system … had been devolved to be the responsibility ultimately, of local government. That was a bad call. It was well-intentioned, that wanted to ensure that local decision making had a role to play. But there needs to be more than just those local dollars at play if we’re going to protect communities going forward, particularly with the uncertainty of climate change and the consequences of extreme weather.”

Horgan said he and Trudeau had discussed how to get the ball rolling on flood protections.

​“Now we need to put provincial and federal dollars in play to protect communities like yours, and making sure that we’re not putting the burden of those dollars on the backs of local ratepayers because it’s just not feasible.”

We also asked why Trudeau hadn’t yet visited Lytton. Watch the responses to our two questions here.​​

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Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 4pm

The Ministry of Transportation will close a number of highways beginning Saturday afternoon ahead of the heavy rainfall expected this weekend.

Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon, Highway 1 between Popkum and Hope will all close for an undetermined length of time. The exact time of the closure will also depend on how weather is impacting the areas, the ministry noted.

Conditions on the three highways will be reevaluated on Sunday morning. Updates will be posted online: DriveBC.ca.

Highway 1 in the Laidlaw area will be further impacted as BC Hydro releases water from Jones Lake to protect the reservoir, which has also been affected by heavy rain. More damage to the highway is likely and a timeline of reopening Highway 1 between Popkum and Hope is not known.

Highway 7 between Mission and Hope will remain open for essential travel. The ministry will continue to monitor conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with members of the military in Abbotsford's Clayburn Village
PM Justin Trudeau met with members of the military in Abbotsford’s Clayburn Village and at its Emergency Operations Centre. 📷 Tyler Olsen
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen examining a map during his visit at the Emergency Operations Centre in Abbotsford
PM Justin Trudeau is examines a map during his visit to Abbotsford’s Emergency Operations Centre 📷 Tyler Olsen
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with members of the military in Abbotsford's Clayburn Village.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with members of the military in Abbotsford’s Clayburn Village 📷 Tyler Olsen

Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 1pm

We still have danger ahead.

That’s the message from Environment Canada meteorologist Armel Castellan today. He said the already wet conditions are going to make it more challenging for water to absorb into the ground as the region prepares for more rain.

“We are now in recovery mode and we still have dangerous weather ahead,” Castellan said.

BC has already experienced two atmospheric rivers, one between Nov. 13 and 15 which started the cascade of flooding that refilled Sumas Lake, and another on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Two more are forecast for the coming days: one over the weekend, and another on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Atmospheric rivers tap into sub-tropical moisture and brings it to the west coast of North America. Sometimes these rivers are extraordinarily strong, he said, which is what we saw Nov. 13 to 15.

“These are coming back to back to back with very little time in between,” he said. “Imagine we’ve had an extraordinarily wet fall… any extra moisture runs down much more easily and much quicker.”

He noted that the fire and drought conditions from the summer could also make it more dangerous. He also noted that snowfall is another challenge. The next two storms forecast for the area will likely melt that snow and create more water coming in the watersheds, exacerbating flood concerns.

The River Forecast Centre of BC had issued high streamflow advisories along most of the coast, as well as a flood warming on the Sumas River. Environment Canada has issued a red-level alert for BC, in part because of the high temperatures going up mountains. This heat could be going up as high as the summits of mountains, which could melt snow in that area and cause significant runoff into already saturated areas.

The worst case scenario is not likely, Castellan said, but it does exist.

“We hope that everybody is prepared and feeling ready, doing as much as they can during this extraordinary set of storms that are impacting the west coast,” he said.

The Environment Canada press conference is now over, and you can watch it here.

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Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 12pm

“At this point we are as ready as we can be.”

Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun shared some good news during today’s press conference about the state of the flooding in the city.

Conditions remained stable overnight at the Barrowtown pump station and it continues to keep pace with the additional water from the rain and water runoff. Braun estimates about 50mm of rain has fallen since yesterday, and water levels at Sumas River are currently stable, allowing the Barrowtown floodgates remain open so water can flow from the Sumas River and empty into the Fraser.

In the last 24 hours, flood water levels in Sumas Lake have dropped three inches, compared to the six to eight inches the day prior. Braun noted the rainfall has slowed the pump station’s progress.

Repairs to the main Sumas dike have been completed, Braun said. It now stands at a height of 23 feet. Yesterday, Emergency Management BC provided funds to the city to also “temporarily increase” the height of the dike along the eastern stretch of the Sumas River to Barrowtown Pump Station to a level of 23 feet as well. That is expected to be finished today or early tomorrow.

In the coming days, Braun estimates the city will receive about 90 to 120mm of rainfall between Saturday and Sunday, and an additional 50 to 100mm between Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Cumulatively, that is more water in total than the initial event, although over a longer period of time,” he said.

David Campbell, from the River Forecast Centre, provided an update on the forecast during the provincial government’s press conference just after Abbotsford’s. Temperatures were cool, so there was more snowfall, Campbell said, and this snow could melt during the next storms, which could be a problem for flooding. 

“We do have a short period of recovery,” he said, “but we’re just looking to the next storms.”

Campbell said they are actively monitoring conditions on the Nooksack River. Flows last night were lower than had been forecast, but the risk of flooding is a potential going into the weekend, particularly with the storm on Sunday. A floodwatch has been issued for Whatcom County in the United States. The diking system in that area does have damage from last week, and repairs are being made.

“There is risk to see additional floodwaters coming from the Nooksack into the Sumas River drainage,” he said.

The third event, which is set to arrive on Tuesday, could be fairly severe, and there’s uncertainty about where it could fall. There will be a better understanding of the trajectory over the weekend.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing a media briefing on this at 12:30pm today.

Officials will continue to monitor the Nooksack, Sumas, Vedder, and Fraser rivers, Braun said. As of today, there is no anticipated change in evacuation orders.

During an 11:30am press conference, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the province will be monitoring roads during the upcoming atmospheric rivers, particularly in places impacted by last week’s storms, and would close highways if necessary. He said there is heavy equipment nearby to be deployed if needed.

He asked people to restrict their travel, and reconsider if their travel is truly necessary. “We need to all pay attention to staying safe with the storms on the way.”

Highway 1 has been moving wells since it opened yesterday afternoon, Fleming noted. East of Chilliwack is only open for single-lane traffic. Fleming is still open for essential travel only, and although there were a few minor accidents traffic is still flowing.

Highway 3 has been closed again, after a major accident this morning. It is the only route open into the Interior. Since it reopened, 4,000 trucks have gone on the route, as well as people heading home into the Interior.

Fleming noted that Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon has seven different spots with damage, four of which had major damage. Work is underway near Jackass Mountain, where a large section of the road is completely gone. The province is also working with CP Rail to create a temporary detour at Tank Hill.

Fleming said he hoped Highway 1 through the Canyon could see temporary repairs allowing it to reopen with restrictions in mid-January.

“Permanent rebuilds of Highways 1 and 8 will take a long time,” Fleming said. Requests for proposals have already been sent out to construction companies. “When we rebuild, we will rebuild better than it was.”

CN has not yet restarted its rail line, despite hoping to get rail traffic moving on its line by Wednesday.

Fuel is being imported into the province, and “products are moving,” Fleming said. He said there would be a full update on Monday for more about fuel and the impacts on BC’s pipelines.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she had met with people in the food and beverage section who are having issues sourcing ingredients like red wheat for flour mills. Some of these issues are being resolved.

She noted there are issues in accessing feed outside of the Fraser Valley, particularly for ranchers.

BC is up to 90% of its usual milk supply, with many farms being inspected and cleared to produce once again. Grain supply is also getting back to normal, with CP rail back up and running.

Some poultry barns in the flooded area are seeing some good news. One family has been able to return to their barns to clear them, and are starting to disinfect them with the help of temporary workers who are employed there.

BC is working to establish supports for farmers, beyond existing programs, Popham said.

“The devastation is serious, and when it comes to folks who farm livestock, there is a relationship that they have with those animals,” she said. “We’re just trying to allow some room for farmers to breathe right now and deal with what happened.”

The press conference is now finished. You can watch it here.

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Update: Friday, Nov. 26, 9:50am

The Nooksack River forecast for the weekend has again grown more dire. Although the river peaked below expectations Friday morning, the prognosis has worsened for Sunday, after a second atmospheric river hits.

The river is now expected to rise to levels that will cause ‘moderate’ flooding. And while that would normally still not greatly affect Sumas Prairie, the saturated ground will influence how flood waters behave. The forecast also means it is possible for the forecast to improve, but also worsen, potentially further adding to the woes of those who live on Sumas Prairie.

Find the latest forecast below. You can find more on the various factors at play in this story from Tuesday.

The Nooksack River Friday morning forecast
The Nooksack River is expected to enter moderate flood territory on Sunday

Update: Friday, 9:30am

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau will be visiting Abbotsford today with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver, and Matsqui First Nation Chief Alice McKay.

The group will meeting with members of the Canadian Armed Forces, first responders and volunteers around 12:30pm today. They will be visiting areas affected by the flooding.

This evening, there will be a joint press conference between Trudeau and Premier John Horgan. The Current will be phoning in to that conference to ask the Prime Minister some questions.

There will be a City of Abbotsford press conference at 11am today, and an Emergency Management BC press conference at 11:30am. The Current will be updating this story with information from both of them.

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Update: Thursday (Nov. 25), 2pm

Today’s rain has had an impact on the Barrowtown pump station’s ability to reduce water levels in the eastern portion of Sumas Prairie, but the City hasn’t yet seen an increase in water levels.

“We are still moving in a positive direction right now,” Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said. “It will likely be weeks before we are able to pump all of the water from the still-flooded portion of the eastern Sumas Prairie.”

In dry weather, the station can pump enough water that can reduce water levels six to eight inches per day. But its ability to do that is impacted by rainfall and runoff water from both the Veddar and Sumas Mountain.

Repairs to the main Sumas dike are 95% complete. Once constructed it will stand at a height of 23 feet. Repairs to the dike at Cole Road are finished. Remaining work in the Atkinson Road area, on the south dike, is expected to be complete this weekend. Armed forces were also able to complete sandbag efforts in Clayburn Village.

Damage assessments are still underway to determine when evacuation orders can be lifted.


Update: Thursday (Nov. 25), 12pm

Highway 1 through Sumas will open today at 2pm, transportation minister Rob Fleming announced during the BC Emergency Update.

Geotechnical engineers have said the stretch of road is safe for travel, but Fleming cautions it will not be “travel as normal, rather it will be slow-going with reduced speed limits.”

Highway 1 will not be subject to a travel order and will be available for general travel.

Reopening of Highway 1 will relief congestion on Highway 7. Traffic on Highway 7 has been restricted to the essential movements of goods and services, the restriction will remain in place after Highway 1 reopens.

Officials believe the Coquihalla might be ready for commercial traffic by January, but it’s unclear when it will be opened for all travellers. 


Update: Thursday (Nov. 25), 8:45am

A flood of the Nooksack River looks increasingly possible this weekend. This morning’s river forecast is again worse than yesterday’s, with the predicted crest of the river on Sunday rising notably. The river still isn’t expected to reach the levels seen last week. But the prognosis is worsening along with the weather forecast.

A Wednesday morning forecast for the Nooksack suggests another flood is possible, particularly on Sunday. 📈 US Weather Service
Thursday’s forecast for the Nooksack suggests another flood is increasingly likely. It’s unclear how much of the water would make its way into Canada. 📈 US Weather Service

Click here to read our in-depth story from Tuesday morning on the potential for more Nooksack flooding this winter.

Update: Wednesday (Nov. 24), 2:30pm

Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack could open tomorrow, although there are no guarantees that it will.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the province had finished some temporary repairs and flood water was receding. Crews were cleaning debris off the road today, and he hoped the highway  would be open tomorrow, although he didn’t give a time.

“We know that people in this region need to travel around,” he said. “This will provide significant relief, and we will keep people updated on that estimated time of reopening.”

Fleming noted that the travel restrictions for Highway 7 had reduced congestion on the route this morning. Fleming said traffic on the route will remain limited to essential travel for the time being, even after Highway 1 re-opens.

“Until we have a full understanding of how Highway 1 will operate, and as we monitor upcoming weather events, Highway 7 will continue to have restrictions,” he said.

The Current asked Fleming if the province had made any changes to avoid a repeat of least week, when commuters had little notice before Highway 1 was closed. He didn’t answer the question directly, but said the ministry is making preparations for the next rainfall event.

“We’re concerned we may have to do preemptive closures like we did on Highway 3,” Fleming said. He said roughly 250 pieces of heavy equipment that “remain mobilized” on highways. 

Abbotsford update

The City of Abbotsford held a press conference that started a few minutes after the Emergency Management BC conference ended. Earlier in the day, the city placed water on Sumas Prairie under a do-not-drink advisory, meaning it can only be used to flush toilets. Several watermain breaks are located under the water on the eastern side of Sumas Prairie and crews cannot yet fix them.

Dike repairs have stopped the flow of water into Sumas Lake, and the Barrowtown Pump Station is still working to pump the water out, Mayor Henry Braun said. The main dike breach is now 90% complete, and reinforcements are being made upstream near Atkinson Road. Some of the dike is still underwater, but Braun thinks the city will be able to handle the first two projected rainfalls. The eastern part of Sumas Prairie remains under seven feet of water in the central portion of the lake.

“We know the longer that water stays there, the greater the damage would be,” Braun said. Fertilizer, fuel, tractors, and vehicles are all underwater, he said. “All of that is migrating into the water.”

He pointed to blueberry farms at an example of some of the destruction that will be obvious in the area once the water recedes.

“We have 1,200 or some acres of blueberries that are underwater,” he said. “After four or five days… those plants have probably died.” Farmers will need to replant, and wouldn’t get a good crop until four or five years after planting.

(The Current published an article on what exactly is growing on Sumas Prairie, and how floodwaters will damage the soil in the region.)

“This is going to take a long time to recover,” he said. “Some of those farmers, they told me, they don’t know if they’re going to do that. They don’t know if they are financially able to do that.”

Sandbagging continues to take place in Clayburn Village on Matsqui Prairie in advance of at least two more atmospheric rivers anticipated for the region.

Braun said he will be speaking to City of Sumas officials this afternoon.

During the conference, Braun took a moment to thank those who had sent him and the city messages of support and hope over the last 10 days.

“People ask me, how are we doing? We are doing well, given the number of messages from people who have messaged me from Vancouver to Halifax, and beyond actually,” he said. “Making sure that we know they are standing with us and their thoughts and prayers are with the city at this critical time.”

The City of Abbotsford conference is now concluded. You can watch it below.

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Update: Wednesday (Nov. 24), 8:45am

The latest forecast for the Nooksack River suggests the river will peak again on Sunday near flood levels. Click here to read our in-depth story from Tuesday morning on the potential for more Nooksack flooding this winter.

Nooksack Wednesday morning forecast
A Wednesday morning forecast for the Nooksack suggests another flood is possible, particularly on Sunday. 📈 US Weather Service

 

Update: Tuesday (Nov. 23), 8:30pm

Highway 1 between Chilliwack and Abbotsford is reportedly now free of water. The road remains closed, but the receding water should provide hope for the thousands of people who drive between the two cities every day.

A reader who visited the highway Tuesday evening reported the water has now receded from the key artery, though debris still litters it. The above photo was taken in the westbound lanes where crews were working on repairing a bridge over the Sumas Canal, just south of the Barrowtown Pump Station (click here to see the location).

Earlier on Tuesday, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said portions of the highway remained under water and that with more rain forecast, it wasn’t known when the road would re-open. But he also said the situation was improving and his ministry might know better Wednesday afternoon when the highway could re-open. The water has continued to recede throughout Tuesday, however, leaving crews optimistic that the highway could re-open soon. Debris will still need to be cleared and engineers will still have to inspect a highway that has been under water for a week. But Fleming sounded optimistic about the situation, pointing to the condition of Highway 1 near Bridal Falls, which was found to be in good shape after it was cleared of mud and debris.

Officials will also likely be watching the weather closely, with a series of new storms set to hit the region again on Thursday.

“We don’t know what more precipitation will due to impact Highway 1 further,” Fleming told reporters.

However, agricultural trucks have been using parts of the highway Tuesday, with video showing trucks crossing the Vedder Canal bridge.

When the highway closed last Monday, it did so with almost no warning, despite water levels in the area rising throughout the day. Governments have been quicker to warn the public this week about the potential effects of as many as three atmospheric rivers that are bearing down on the coast.

The highway has been closed for more than a week now, cutting people off from jobs, health care appointments, and other essentials. While Highway 7, on the north side of the river, has been opened for several days, heavy traffic has resulted in long delays and several accidents. On Tuesday, travel restrictions were extended to the stretch between Agassiz and Mission, closing the road to non-essential travel.

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Update: Tuesday (Nov. 23), 3:30pm

Anyone travelling between Mission and Hope will need to reevaluate their plans after 8pm tonight, now that Highway 7 has been restricted to essential travel.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming announced that Hwy 7 between Mission and Hope will now be restricted to essential travel only to allow for essential goods to travel along the now-congested corridor. This is giving it the same restrictions as other highways into the Lower Mainland, including Highway 99 and Highway 3. The definition of essential travel is being expanded to include public transit, school buses, and charter buses to allow for students to attend class and essential workers to their jobs.

“We need to ensure the supply chain can move with limited disruption, whether it’s milk trucks, fuel trucks, or food deliveries,” Fleming said. “These essential goods are struggling right now to get through some of the congestion we’re seeing in the Lower Mainland.”

Essential travel also includes livestock producers and veterinarians travelling to work, responding to emergencies (such as SAR operations), evacuating for medical reasons, travelling for urgent medical treatment, returning to your home, assisting vulnerable or at-risk people, and transporting essential goods and supplies.

Highway 7 was closed Monday night after a diesel spill on Mt. Woodside, and has been subject to a number of vehicle incidents. These accidents were preventable, Fleming said.

“Conditions are not normal, these are still active construction sites, and we’re asking people to be conscious of that,” he said.

There is no reopening time for Highway 1. It is a priority, Fleming said, but “we don’t know what more precipitation will due to impact Highway 1 further.”

The eastbound lanes are seeing less water, and if rain doesn’t impact the road further, the ministry will have a better sense by the end of the day tomorrow about when the highway could reopen.

Highway 7 to Highway 3 is currently the only route for commercial travel, and it had to close temporarily Monday for a geotechnical assessment.

“While we have people working around the clock to get these routes open, safety is always going to take precedent,” Fleming said.

Emergency Management BC is holding a press conference at 3pm today to update the people on the province’s response to flooding. You can watch that press conference here.

Update: Tuesday (Nov. 23), 2pm

Sumas dike is nearly repaired, as best the city can do without looking under water, and city staff are looking at how the upcoming rain could affect the dike, particularly if the Nooksack overflows again. 

According to Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, City of Abbotsford staff are working with consultants to create extensive water level modelling, using information from Environment Canada. These models will show how the water could interact with the dikes, which are not yet fully repaired.

“All of the repair and reinforcement work to the dike so far have been done to ensure we have the best protection possible should the Nooksack River overflow again,” Braun said.

Braun said there were four main areas of the Sumas dike that needed repairs, which made up less than 1% of the diking system. The main repair is about 80% complete, and the city is expecting to add another five feet of height before the rain on Thursday.

More crews will be working on the erosion of the dike near Atkinson Road, once repairs are finished near No. 3 Road. Repairs near the Barrowtown Pump Station and Cole Road are complete. The pump station will also be shored up with additional sandbags.

“We are concerned with the Nooksack and we are watching it very closely,” Braun said.

The city has closed the No. 3 bridge at the Sumas Canal, with engineers being brought in to assess the structural integrity of the bridge. The city is assessing all accessible bridges, roads, and culverts, although water levels need to drop to continue inspections.

Earlier today, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, agriculture critic Ian Paton, MLA Pam Alexis, and Braun visited the western edge of Sumas Prairie to speak with farmers about their situation. A reporter during the conference asked Braun if the visit gave any indication of what could be done to protect Sumas Prairie in the future, but Braun said the visit was less about the future and more about farmers’ stories.

The City of Abbotsford ‘s press conference is now complete. You can watch that conference here.

 

Update: Monday (Nov. 22), 5 pm

A new Nooksack River forecast suggests the key river could again spill its banks in the days to come.

Although a forecast from earlier on Monday suggested models thought a flood remained unlikely, an update from the US Weather Service was issued at 2:21pm. The predicted crest of the river is now two feet higher than had previously been forecast. And that crest can rise, depending on the weather.

We will have more on the likelihood of another Nooksack flood—both in the next week and over the coming months—tomorrow.

Highway 3 has also just been reopened after a washout closed it earlier this afternoon.

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Update: Monday (Nov. 22), 2 pm

The water level has dropped seven inches at Sumas Prairie since the dike breach was sealed yesterday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said during an afternoon press conference.

Floodgates remains fully open at Barrowtown pump station, and water continues to flow from Sumas River into the Fraser River.

An evacuation order has been rescinded for properties north of Highway 1 between Sumas Way and Whatcom Road.

Meanwhile, repairs to the Sumas River dikes continue.

The south Sumas dike, south of Atkinson Road, has crews working on-site around the clock.

“This is a critical piece of repair that needs to take place,” Braun said.

Military troops remain on the ground in Abbotsford to support flood mitigation.


Update: Monday (Nov. 22), 1 pm

A new washout has closed Highway 3 between Princeton and Hope, again cutting off the only truck route between the BC Interior and the Lower Mainland.

DriveBC reported the closure around noon Monday, and says it is not known when the highway will re-open. The only link open is via Highway 99 through Whistler, Pemberton, and Lillooet. But there are weight restrictions on that circuitous route into the Interior.

Two more atmospheric rivers are forecasted to hit the Fraser Valley, according to Environment Canada. The first on Thursday and the second on Saturday. The latest weather events are not expected to bring as nearly as much rainfall as the previous weather system. But the new precipitation can potentially worsen problems with the already at-capacity rivers and saturated grounds.

In the short term, about five to 10mm of rainfall is expected today and another 10 to 15mm overnight, typical for this time of year.

Update: Monday (Nov. 22), 10am

Meteorologists are forecasting significant rainfall in the coming days for the western part of the province, where they say more flooding is likely. Much of the attention is on the north coast, but there remains a moderate possibility for the Nooksack to spill its banks again.

The Weather Network’s modelling predicts the latest weather system to hit the province will solidify it as one of the wettest Novembers ever recorded in history.

Environment Canada has yet to issue an alert about what other meteorologists are warning, but they did warn about a snowfall warning for the Coquihalla Highway between Merritt and Hope. About 25 to 30cm of snow is expected by Tuesday afternoon. 

Much of the rain predicted is forecast to fall over the Fraser Valley and Mt. Baker area. There is some good news: American river forecasters are not yet predicting the Nooksack River will again breach its banks, although that can change as rainfall forecasts shift. We will continue to monitor and regularly post about the Nooksack’s forecast.

The Nooksack River gauge.

Long-term, though, the Nooksack remains a danger. Indeed, the Americans say there is as much as a one-in-three chance of another moderate flood of the Nooksack before February and a 10% chance of a major flood.

Long-term flood forecast for the Nooksack River
The Nooksack River has a one-in-three chance of flooding again this winter, according to a US flood forecasting model.

BC announced today that Highway 1 will be open from Highway 11 to Cole Road to allow for emergency access to Sumas Prairie for essential agricultural operations. Two eastbound lanes have been opened to provide for two-way travel, and RCMP will be onsite to ensure essential access only. All other vehicles will be turned around.

There is still no access between Chilliwack and Abbotsford on Highway 1.

The City of Abbotsford will be holding a press conference at 2pm today. You can watch that conference here.

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Update: Sunday (Nov. 21), 4:30pm

Although the breach in the Sumas Dike is still being repaired, water has stopped flowing into the Sumas Lake bed. Mayor Henry Braun told The Current he was optimistic that the situation will continue to improve, although there is still a ‘long way to go.’

He toured the Barrowtown Pump Station today and said there is still water dripping from the ceiling, and water in the basement.

He hailed the hundreds of volunteers and half-dozen city workers who came to the station’s rescue with sandbags on Tuesday night.

“If we would have lost that station and the pumps went down, that water isn’t going anywhere. Those pumps would be under water until spring.”

Tomorrow we will publish a long investigation into the failure of the Sumas dike, and the continued lack of preparedness for floods across the Fraser Valley. Subscribe below to our newsletter to get it in your email inbox immediately.

The City of Abbotsford held a press conference at 2pm today. You can watch that conference below.

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Update: Sunday (Nov. 21), 4:30pm

Although the breach in the Sumas Dike is still being repaired, water has stopped flowing into the Sumas Lake bed. Mayor Henry Braun told The Current he was optimistic that the situation will continue to improve, although there is still a ‘long way to go.’

He toured the Barrowtown Pump Station today and said there is still water dripping from the ceiling, and water in the basement.

He hailed the hundreds of volunteers and half-dozen city workers who came to the station’s rescue with sandbags on Tuesday night.

“If we would have lost that station and the pumps went down, that water isn’t going anywhere. Those pumps would be under water until spring.”

Tomorrow we will publish a long investigation into the failure of the Sumas dike, and the continued lack of preparedness for floods across the Fraser Valley. Subscribe below to our newsletter to get it in your email inbox immediately.

The City of Abbotsford held a press conference at 2pm today. You can watch that conference below.

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Update: Saturday (Nov. 20), 8pm

One lane of traffic is now open in both directions between Hope and the Highway 9 junction near Chilliwack. The opening means that drivers can reach Chilliwack from Hope and vice versa. Officials say drivers should expect delays. Travel restriction orders are not in effect for the stretch of highway, but drivers are asked to travel only for essential purposes while cleanup continues.

Highway 1 remains closed between Abbotsford and Highway 9, with no timeline for its re-opening.

Update: Saturday (Nov. 20), 1pm

Things are finally looking up, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says.

Braun was emotional at a press conference Sunday afternoon at which he spoke about the opening of the floodgates at Barrowtown Pump Station to begin draining part of Sumas Prairie.

According to the city, the floodgates were partially opened at 1:46am to release water from the Sumas River into the Fraser River. The city is hopeful that water levels will remain low enough to keep the gates open. If the tonight’s tide is able to lower the Fraser even more, the city will open the floodgates more widely to let more water through.

“This is very good news,” he said, while cautioning that in some parts of the valley, particularly in the northeast section where 2,500 cows are still located, the water is still rising.

Braun noted that while Barrowtown pumps 500,000 gallons of water a minute, the Sumas floodgates allow seven times that figure now. He said the opening of the floodgates are having a “dramatic change” in parts of the prairie. He cautioned, however, that the gates may have to be closed again, depending on tides and weather conditions.

Work also continues on repairing the Sumas Dike that has allowed to flow into the old lake bed of Sumas Lake.

“I don’t know what better news I could deliver,” he said at the close of the press conference.

The weather: The Weather Network is forecasting less than one millimetre of rain over the next 36 hours. But close to 100mm is expected over the next week, starting with 15mm on Monday.

At BC’s press conference this morning, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Environment Canada will be speeding up the development of a new ranking system for atmospheric rivers. You can watch that conference here.

Highway 99 past Pemberton has also opened to essential travel only. The bodies of four people have been recovered from the slide.

The City of Abbotsford is providing an update on the situation in Abbotsford during a press conference at 2pm today. You can watch that conference below.

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Update: Friday 4pm

Until the water recedes from Highway 1, there is no indication of how long it will take to re-open the key artery between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

The province also announced that it will be rationing fuel in the Lower Mainland and restricting travel on highways 3, 99, and 7 to essential vehicles only.

With 10 to 11 days of fuel shortages on the horizon, an emergency order will limit people to 30 litres of gas per visit. There will be delays and shortage, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said. He did not say how close BC was to running out of gas, but he said the restrictions are needed to get through the next 10 to 11 days.

“Take extra time if you need to go to a local gas station and please be patient.”

Commercial vehicles, health care vehicles will be exempt from rationing.

Farnworth urged people to take public transit, carpool, walk, and work from home if possible.

“If you don’t have to be on the road, don’t travel,” he said. “We’ve been here before so we know how to get through this.”

Emergency vehicles and healthcare vehicles will have unrestricted access to fuel. There is no specific mechanism to stop people from taking more than 30 litres, although Farnworth said most people would do the right thing.

Gas will be coming from as far away as California and being trucked into the province.

On highways, which are restricted to essential travel, police will be checking traffic. There could be fines of up to $2,000.

The connection between Popkum and Hope has been able to have some of the landslide debris removed, and the Ministry of Transportation will be able to have a better idea of when it could reopen over the weekend. Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack is still underwater, and will need to be evaluated when flooding recedes.

“The overwhelming majority of people will do the right thing,” Farnworth said. “We’ve done that for the last 20 months, and that’s what will get us through the next 10 to 11 days.”

Agricultural Minister Lana Popham noted there are tensions between farmers trying to access properties and RCMP officers blocking roads. Most milk pickups are resuming in the province for dairy farmers.

Military engineers will be coming to get roads assessed more quickly for safety.

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Update: Friday (Nov. 19), 2pm

A levee is no longer being considered to stop floodwaters in Abbotsford, Mayor Mike Braun said.

Braun said the situation was “fluid,” and teams worked overnight to assess the area. The military will be working on a temporary replacement for the Sumas Dike instead. Braun said the conditions on the ground have changed, and the water had equalized on both sides of the lake bed.

He noted the condition could change again, although a levee will not be built.

The levee work would have impacted 22 homeowners. Earlier estimates had said there would have only been six to 12 homes. The homes are already flooded, but would have been affected for a longer period of time. Because the levee is no longer being built, the homes will not be flooded for longer than the neighbouring properties.

Braun said the city is now in the execution phase of the repairs, and there are 64 military troops in Abbotsford. Engineers have assessed 10 bridges in the city, 32km of roads, and 70 culverts. “We have a lot of work in front of us.”

Braun said he was concerned about the 80mm to 100mm of rain coming, as the integrity of the dike is unknown. The military has already found some weaknesses, he said. “That dike has been weakened. To what degree, we don’t know yet.” He said he was concerned about the Nooksack flooding again and sending water through Sumas Prairie again.

Braun said he could see the whole dike needing to be rebuilt after the flooding.

“I shouldn’t say that, my staff will get mad at me,” he said, “but I could see that whole structure having to be rebuilt to a higher standard.”

Five years ago, Sumas Dike did not meet the provincial standards for crest height and seismic stability. It was classified as “fair-poor.” The crest elevation was deemed “unacceptable.”

The water in the Fraser River only dropped six inches overnight, rather than the two feet Braun had been hoping for, which means the floodgates at the Barrowtown Pump Station can’t yet be opened.

Fifteen feed trucks were able to get into the prairie last night, but some are not able to get in today depending on the roads they are trying to take. “If a truck goes over, we won’t even know it’s in there, because of how deep those ditches are,” Braun said.

Staff are working around the clock to try and get evacuees access to their homes.

“We understand that people are desperate to get home to their property and livestock,” Braun said. “I’ve seen photos where we have downed power lines in water. I know it may look safe to people, but it’s not safe until we have done risk assessments of what’s out there.”

There have been no injuries or deaths that the city is aware of.

The City of Abbotsford press conference has now conduded. You can find the link for that conference here.

The City of Chilliwack provided a video update this morning showing how the flooding on Sumas Prairie is affecting Chilliwack residents. Currently, only a few Yarrow properties have water on them as a result of the flooding.

Abbotsford is working on repairing the Sumas Dike and developing a bypass dike. The breaches in the Sumas Dike are what caused so much water to enter the former lake bed.

Yarrow is still on evacuation alert. You can see the Chilliwack video update, which includes Director of Engineer David Blain showing how the Sumas Dike breach affects Yarrow, below.

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Update: Thursday (Nov. 18), 4pm
A 2.5km levee will be constructed along the highway in Abbotsford near the site of one of two breaches of a Sumas Dike. The effort will be supported by the military, Mayor Henry Braun said. How long the project will take is unclear.

“We have to stop the water,” he said.

Several homes are on the path of the proposed levee. Braun estimates between 6 to 12 properties will be impacted.

“This lake is expanding and is moving from west to east,” Braun said. He suggested the problem will start to impact the Yarrow area in Chilliwack.

He expressed the urgency of the matter ahead of more rain forecasted for the region.

“This event is not over by any means and I’m concerned about the rain event that is coming, another 80 to 100 mm beginning on Tuesday. We have to finish this work, like yesterday,” Braun said.

Watch the full press conference here:

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Update: Thursday (Nov. 18), 8am
There has been little change to the Barrowtown Pump Station after a massive volunteer effort helped to sandbag the equipment, but there are still more than 40 people in the evacuation area, and waters are rising in the eastern part of the Prairie.

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr has asked anyone who is still in Sumas Prairie to contact 9-1-1, as they haven’t been able to go door-to-door through the area. The emergency dispatchers will put the call through to local emergency responders, who are creating a queue of those most in need of rescue.

Although water has been receding on the western side, levels are continuing to rise in the eastern Sumas Prairie, as water from the Nooksack continues to flow into Abbotsford and to the former Sumas Lake. The Barrowtown Pump Station is working to move that water into the Fraser River. The pump station is continuing to operate at full capacity, and there has been no change to the pumps overnight.

“That water cannot drain anywhere, because it’s the lowest point. That water has to be pumped out by the Barrowtown pumps, which is why they were installed,” Mayor Henry Braun said. “We are not talking days, we are talking weeks. I just don’t know how many weeks.”

There are around 100 evacuees at Abbotsford’s Tradex. Fire Chief Darren Lee said they rescued another 11 people from Sumas Prairie overnight. Anyone needing to register as an evacuee should go to Tradex and register face-to-face.

“If we can get through this without anybody getting hurt, I think it’s a testament to the people’s professionalism and just good neighbours helping neighbours,” Lee said.

Water in Sumas Prairie is still turned off due to a watermain break, which was located Wednesday night. Crews are working to repair the break, as well as other, smaller breaks. This lack of water is a major issue for farmers who have remained in the area, as they are unable to feed and water their animals.

Braun said he didn’t want to speculate how much damage has been caused by the flooding in the prairie, but that it could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not including the rebuilding of the dikes. “You could get up to a billion dollars, I predict.”

Braun said he had no updates on when military forces may be arriving in the Fraser Valley, but said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan were extremely supportive of Abbotsford’s efforts.

“They are 100% behind us. They will provide whatever we know. We just need to let them know what we need and when we need it, and it will be here,” Braun said. “I take them all at their word, but I’ve also prepared them for one big bill at the end of this.”

The Fire Department managed to put out the large fire at an RV dealership under control yesterday, asking for an air tanker for support, which is not typical for this time of year.

The conference is concluded and you can watch it here. The city is expecting to update the community at another conference at 4pm today, although it may be earlier if things change on the prairie.

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Update: Wednesday (Nov. 17), 11:30am

The City of Chilliwack is watching the Barrowtown Pump Station closely after last night’s scare, as a failure could impact Yarrow on the Chilliwack side of the border.

Yarrow was evacuated yesterday afternoon, and city officials reiterated their call for everyone to get out a few hours after Abbotsford said the Barrowtown Pump Station was in imminent danger of failing. According to Chilliwack’s head of emergency support services Chris Wilson, around 90% of residents had left the area by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, although some stayed behind.

No other areas of Chilliwack are at risk, although there have been mudslides in other parts of the city.

“The best thing we can do is monitor water levels and monitor the Nooksack River levels,” director of engineering David Blain said. “We’ll know what the situation could become should the pumps stop acting.”

You can see the full Chilliwack press conference here.

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Update: Wednesday (Nov. 17), 8:30am
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the situation is still critical in Sumas Prairie, as the Barrowtown Pump Station continues to operate at full capacity. However, the waters have receded enough that the pumps are no longer at imminent risk of being overwhelmed.

“Things are just holding steady since last night,” Braun said. “It’s gone up slightly, but not much… I’m just hoping we’re not going to get rain.”

The surge in water at the Barrowtown Pump Station is coming from the Nooksack River, which burst its banks in the United States on Sunday and has been sending water north into Sumas Prairie. The pumps were not intended to take on water from the Nooksack, Braun said, and the gauges monitoring the river had gone offline for a while last night.

Last night, roughly 300 staff, volunteers, and contractors were able to build a road to the pump station and a dam to help protect the pump station and buy it more time before being overwhelmed by water. The water level on the Fraser River has now fallen two metres from yesterday. Braun said the river needs to drop another metre before Barrowtown’s floodgates can be opened, which would allow seven times more water to move through the station.

“The weather is helping us,” Braun said. “With a little bit of luck, if that happens in the next 24 hours, we will be able to relieve the pressure on the Barrowtown Pump Station.”

The pump situation will continue to be assessed throughout the day.

Story continues below.

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Throughout the day Tuesday and overnight, approximately 184 people were rescued from the west side of Sumas Prairie. There were 11 rescue teams on boats working on the west side, in addition to the teams from Chilliwack SAR. The numbers for the east side of the Sumas Prairie is less clear.

There were 100 calls in the queue for rescues last night, and there are still 80 people who had contacted 9-1-1 for assistance who need to be followed up with. Anyone still needing help can call 604-864-5688. (Anyone wanting to provide assistance can also call this number.)

There were around 300 people in the area when the evacuation order was reissued, and there is no one unaccounted for. However, there were also people visiting the area in kayaks. Police Chief Mike Serr said the public in the area were actually impeding farmers attempting to get their cattle and other livestock off their farms.

“We appreciate that you want to see what’s happening, but we need you to stay away,” Serr said. “It’s completely inappropriate, it’s unsafe, and you’re putting you and your family at risk when you do that.”

Story continues below.

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In addition, many had criticized the provincial government on social media for not using BC’s emergency alert system to warn residents about Sumas Prairie late last night. Braun said the city made the decision to not activate BC’s emergency alert system last night, as it would have alerted all of Abbotsford, and not just people in Sumas Prairie.

“We wanted to directly contact the 300 people who live in Sumas Prairie, and those 300 people all know there’s an emergency just by looking out there window, and we didn’t want to alarm the whole city,” Braun said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth put out a release late last night to that effect, and also noted that the province had requested ground and air support from the Canadian Armed Forces. Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair confirmed the forces would be coming, saying they would be able to “assist with evacuation efforts, support supply chain routes, and protect residents against floods and landslides.”

In addition to the flooding in Sumas Prairie, there is also large fire burning at an RV dealership near Sumas Mountain Road and North Parallel road. There are around 100 recreational vehicles on fire.

Large plumes of smoke are blowing to the north and west, and residents are asked to stay indoors as the smoke could be toxic.

Abbotsford Fire is on scene. The fire is happening underneath high voltage power lines. Fire Chief Darren Lee warned that if there is enough smoke, the transmission lines could ground through the particulate. There are 40 firefighters at a propane filling station on the west side of the fire, making sure it isn’t impacted by the fire.

The City of Abbotsford held a press conference at 7:30am this morning. You can watch that conference here:


Original: Tuesday (Nov. 16), 10:30pm

If you’re in Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, you need to get out now. The City of Abbotsford says a ‘catastrophic’ disaster is coming, with its Barrowtown Pump Station expected to fail in the next seven hours.

Anyone who cannot safely leave immediately should call 9-1-1. An evacuation order has been in place since the morning, but many have remained behind to try to save animals. But the Barrowtown failure will dramatically exacerbate flooding.

Barrowtown is used to pump water out of the basin of what used to be Sumas Lake, the bed of which sits at about sea level. Its failure will start to let water into the basin from the Fraser River, the city says. That will dramatically increase the rate at which water enters the basin.

A report last year that envisioned dike breaches but no pump station failure estimated that much of the area would be inundated by more than three metres of water. This event could be worse.

A news conference was held at 9pm. Mayor Henry Braun said residents should immediately evacuate. He said engineers were at the pump station trying to keep water pumping out. Water had not yet entered the interior of the pump station, but the situation was critical, he said. As soon as water enters the station, the pumps will have to be turned off.

“The engineering team is trying to do everything it can to protect the pump station,” he said. “If there is an overflow into the pump station, this situation will become critical very quickly.”

Braun said things were changing extremely fast.

“The situation is changing by the minute and that is why we are taking these steps at this time.”

If a pump goes down, “there’s going to be more water coming into Sumas Prairie than those pumps are capable of pumping,” Braun said.

Fire chief Darren Lee said contractors and emergency workers were attempting to build a sandbag wall around pump station, and other work was being done to try to prolong its work.

“We’re also looking at the possibility of airlifting pumps in tonight,” Lee said.

Around 3,000 people live on Sumas Prairie. Up to 300 currently remain at their properties. The vast area is about 60 square kilometres in size and produces much of BC’s dairy and poultry products. It’s home to millions of chickens and thousands of cows.

Earlier in the day, Braun spoke about watching shivering farmers wade through five feet of water to rescue cattle using jet boats. He said he understood the urge and might try to do the same in a similar position. Five hours later, though, he told farmers it was time to leave.

“Nothing is worth your life,” he said.  “I implore anyone who is listening to this to please heed the evacuation order and leave. Tomorrow morning may be too late.”

Following the press conference, the City of Chilliwack urged residents in Yarrow, which is also under evacuation order, to leave immediately due to an “imminent threat to life and safety.” There are evacuation routes available.

The press conference is now concluded. You can watch it below.

continues below

A report last year illustrated the scale of flooding possible if a dike failed. The failure of the Barrowtown pump station, at the top of the map, could lead to even worse flooding.
A report last year illustrated the scale of flooding possible if a dike failed. The failure of the Barrowtown pump station, at the top of the map, could lead to even worse flooding.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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