Draining flood water in Abbotsford could take weeks

Abbotsford mayor says cost of rebuilding after flood could hit $1 billion

Highway 1 through Abbotsford still passable by boat only. | DriverBC

Highway 7 was partially reopened Wednesday evening between Agassiz and Hope to allow people stranded in Hope to make their way to the Lower Mainland, but has been closed to non-essential traffic again.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Abbotsford held a press conference this morning, where he said the area known as Sumas Prairie will likely remain flooded for weeks, and estimated the cost of the damage and repairs and rebuilding could reach as high as $1 billion.

The stretch of highway between Agassiz and Hope was opened Wednesday evening to west-bound passenger vehicle traffic only to allow those stranded in Hope to get back to the Lower Mainland. It is now closed again to all traffic except emergency vehicles and roadwork crews.

The Lower Mainland remains cut off from the rest of B.C., with the only route in being through the U.S. Sections of Highway 1 are still under water, including in Abbotsford.

In a morning press conference, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said it could take weeks before the 60 square kilometre region of farmland known as Sumas Prairie can be drained, and that repairing flood damage and repairing dikes could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We are not talking days,” he said. “We are talking weeks. I just don’t know how many weeks.”

Sumas Prairie is a former lake. It is the lowest lying land in the region, so there is nowhere for the water that deluged Abbotsford between Saturday and Monday to go.

The city’s Barrowtown Pump Station has been working overtime to try to drain water from the region, but water continues to flow into the area from the Nooksak River from the Washington side of the border, Braun said.

Braun said he spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning and was given assurances the federal government will provide the city with whatever assistance it needs.

“I take them all at their word, but I’ve also prepared them for one big bill at the end of this because this is not going to be just $10 million or $50 million,” Braun said. “This is in the multiple hundreds, if not maybe higher than that.

“That does not include the rebuilding of the dikes, and we have no idea what that is,” Braun added. “We have done studies on our dikes and the bill for just rebuilding the Sumas dike and the Matsqui dike is $400 million as of a couple of years ago, so you add inflation to that.

“When you start totalling this up, you’re going to get up to $1 billion, I predict, but maybe I’m wrong.”

He said overpasses and some 30 bridges will need to have risk assessments done before heavy equipment can even be moved in to start clean-up and reconstruction work.

A number of schools remain closed in Abbotsford and Chilliwack until Friday, and all classes are cancelled at the Fraser Valley University.

Meanwhile, on Vancouver Island, the Malahat section of Highway No. 1 is now open to single-lane traffic. That section of highway was only open during the day, and has been closed at night. The highway is now open in the evenings, but to single-lane traffic only.

"While work is underway, drivers can expect single-lane alternating traffic with some intermittent closures to assist fuel tankers and emergency services through the site," the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a news release.

"With favourable weather, emergency repairs should be completed by end of day Monday, Nov. 22, when two-way traffic may resume."