People in the British Columbia community of Grand Forks are hustling to get ahead of a deluge of melting snow and heavy rainfall after learning a costly lesson about flooding five years ago.
The community not far from the Canada-U. S. border is one of many under threat in B.C.’s southern and central Interior after a week of record temperatures and predicted rain combine for conditions ripe for flooding.
Grand Forks Mayor Everett Baker says they’ve been shoring up the city’s defences since 2018 when 95 homes were lost to a flood and they want to avoid a similar situation this year.
Baker says they are keeping a close eye on the weather and focusing on areas of the downtown to protect businesses and infrastructure from the rising waters.
He says the province has supplied the city with temporary dams and sandbags, which are being installed with the help of a crew from the B.C. Wildfire Service.
Parts of the Village of Cache Creek and Okanagan Indian Band land are already under water, flooding homes, businesses and even Cache Creek’s firehall.
Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta says the water level in the village is the highest flood stage he’s seen, and sandbagging isn’t sufficient to keep the floodwaters at bay.
The village evacuated more than a dozen properties as a result, while the Okanagan Indian Band has ordered the evacuation of several properties along Okanagan Lake, west of Vernon.
In Grand Forks, Mayor Baker said he’s confident the city’s flood mitigation efforts will stave off the worst case scenario, though he knows other communities are being hard hit already.
“I’ve been watching what’s going on in Cache Creek and other communities,” he said. “I empathize because we were there.”
His daughter’s home was affected in the last major flooding event, he said, giving him both a personal and professional perspective on the stress of dealing with potential catastrophes.
“Myself and council and our city staff decided this time that we were going to try to be as proactive as possible and get out the protection that we can sooner than later,” he said. “Then hopefully we’ll have done enough to protect the city.”
In an update Thursday, Minister of Emergency Management Bowinn Ma said Grand Forks had done an “enormous amount” of flood mitigation work that other communities could emulate.
She said the upgrade to the diking system is one important measure, but their flood mitigation strategy is about much more.
“They’ve actually actively worked with community members to move properties out of flood prone areas in a strategy known as planned retreat,” Ma said. “These are very important strategies, they are difficult for communities to work through, and Grand Forks has managed to do that.”