Floods and Frustration

Emergency management, emergency preparedness and building resilient communities. Those are all phrases we throw around a lot, and you might be thinking those phrases have become tedious. I can completely appreciate that, but you should be watching local governments closely right now, because we need to be investing in programs that to the best of our ability insulate our communities from these emergency situations. 

At a conference recently, we were presented with the concept that every dollar of investment to reduce risk to your community, saves us 14 future dollars. Emergencies arrive with little warning, they are staying longer than we’ve ever experienced, and they are becoming larger scale than we are used to. 

Emergencies are typically local, and that is why your local government needs an emergency management plan that involves mitigation and prevention, preparedness, response AND recovery. A key component of a successful emergency management program is you, our community. Understanding risks, future proofing your own houses and businesses, and making sure you have a solid safety plan. A great first step is registering for the RDEK Evacuation Notification System, this is the quickest way to receive notifications of alerts or orders that may be impacting you. 

In Fernie, the Annex Dike Flood Protection Improvement Project is the city’s third major flood mitigation project, valued at $4.975 million dollars and funded through grants. This project will protect over 900 residences, 113 commercial properties, six industrial properties and 2,000+ citizens living in the Annex neighbourhood. 

In 2019 we commissioned a Flood Mitigation Plan that specifically identified flood hazards and updated flood plain mapping, from there we were faced with a laundry list of hazards and it was daunting to see how many gaps in flood protection existed throughout the community. 

We went through the exercise of prioritizing risk and projects and started chasing grants. Since 2019 the City has secured $8.234 million dollars in funding to improve flood protection, and that feels like a fantastic accomplishment. The Mountview Dike, and Northlands ‘Maiden Lake’ Dike were our first two projects that protect important infrastructure. 

Last month I had the privilege of attending an in-person meeting with Minister Farnworth and other community leaders that were impacted by the November atmospheric rain event. As the meeting was starting, I was checking in with the leaders of Princeton, Merrit and Abbotsford and feeling their immediate frustration and ongoing vulnerability. The price tags that are associated with their immediate flood protection is staggering, the confusion about timelines is frustrating. 

As of April of this year, hundreds of residents were still displaced by the November floods in Merritt. The Mayor of Abbotsford has been all over the media saying that another catastrophe is just around the corner and asking for emergency support of immediate critical dike repairs, or the next breach will devastate his community. 

This time of year, we are watching and waiting, holding our breath, hoping the freshet doesn’t bring another flood for Fernie. I will be so relieved when this next section of flood protection is finished. 

I have a lot of empathy for the communities around the province still living with the consequences of the November freshet. 

This summer it might be inconvenient to see the work on the Annex dike, but short-term disruption will ensure our community is protected long into the future… and that makes me pretty happy.