Sumas Prairie as seen from Highway 1 near Chilliwack on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Sumas Prairie as seen from Highway 1 near Chilliwack on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Build back better group urges B.C. to adopt best practices for Lower Mainland flood planning

‘We can’t stop at repairs; we need to prepare for future events,’ says Lina Azeez, member of group

It’s time to tackle flood control across the Lower Mainland in a whole new way.

One year after catastrophic flooding, a B.C. coalition is calling on the provincial government to collaborate with local governments, First Nations, farmers and environmentalists on a better way to spend the $5 billion recovery fund set up by the federal government.

The “Build Back Better, Together Collaborative” (BBBTC), an Indigenous-led group, is working toward a more “integrated and resilient” approach to flood planning for the Lower Fraser River region, according to a Nov. 10 release.

RELATED: Forum held to build back better

Repairs to dikes and other infrastructure are underway, but it’s the preparation for future events that is sorely lacking.

“Governments at all levels have been making significant investments in flood recovery to deal with immediate impacts of the November 2021 floods, but we can’t stop at repairs; we need to prepare for future events,” said Lina Azeez, campaign manager for Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “Instead of rushing to build back exactly what we had before, as currently required under provincial legislation, we are urging the B.C. government to use this window of opportunity to build back better to address vulnerabilities and inequities for a safer, more resilient future.”

The feds earmarked $5 billion in funding for B.C. last December to tackle the devastation from flooding and slides.

The group is “encouraged” by the federal support, and the fact that the province is undertaking a public consultation on the B.C. flood strategy, but it is not clear how this critical funding has been allocated or spent to date.

One Indigenous leader had been hoping the disaster would function as a wake-up call pointing to the need for a unified approach.

“Our communities learned that we need to work together for multi-beneficial flood management that will protect communities and critical infrastructure, advance reconciliation, and ensure long-term resilience in a changing climate,” said Tyrone McNeil, president of the Stó:lō Tribal Council.

It’s clear recognition that different communities have varying capacities and resources. McNeil spearheaded the effort to create the collaborative group BBBTC last year as chair of the Emergency Planning Secretariat, representing 31 First Nations across B.C.

The group wants the B.C. government to prioritize:

• Supporting the BBBTC in its work to improve regional dialogue around flood recovery and resilience, and apply the BBBT model process for flood management to support provincial scale flood management;

• Redesigning funding programs and adjust regulations to remove barriers so the region can work together in creating more flood-resilient infrastructure;

• Make available, as a minimum, 15 per cent of disaster recovery costs for improving resilience, restoring stream connectivity for salmon, and advancing reconciliation in the floodplain, by aligning provincial Disaster Financial Assistance with federal Guidelines for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, which specifies that 15 per cent of recovery costs can be allocated to mitigation enhancements.

The concept of building back better comes from the UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Sendai agreement takes a holistic approach, from understanding disaster risk, to strengthening disaster-risk governance, and investing in emergency preparedness and disaster-risk reduction.

It’s preparing in a way that allows for the “build back better” principle, for better planning, response, rehabilitation, and resilience.

Examples of the ‘build back better’ approach in action includes projects like:

• Fish-friendly gates upgrade on Agassiz Slough, District of Kent – The municipality, landowners, Indigenous experts, the Resilient Waters field crew and community members came together to support the installation of a fish-friendly flood box that is better suited to handling the projected volumes of water expected with climate change. The new gate will remain open 90 per cent longer than the old gate.

• Fish-friendly pump station and flood box upgrade, City of Delta – an existing top-mounted flap gate and pump station on the Lower Tilbury Slough will be upgraded to improve fish passage and access to 13 hectares of habitat for migrating juvenile salmon and sturgeon. The project will also improve water quality and move more water into the mainstem Fraser River during high rain or flood events.

• Green infrastructure on an Abbotsford family farm – localized flooding took out most of the farm’s blueberry crop, but after installing plants on the river’s edge, the farm owners were able to slow river flows and provide new habitat for salmon.

RELATED: Regional approach needed to remove silos

Do you have something to add to this story, or a news tip? Email:
jennifer.feinberg@theprogress.com


@CHWKjourno
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Highway 1 is pictured during a fly over of the flood damage in Abbotsford, B.C., Tuesday, November 23, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Highway 1 is pictured during a fly over of the flood damage in Abbotsford, B.C., Tuesday, November 23, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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