British Columbia is bracing for more rain on its south coast this week, with provincial and local authorities hopeful the urgent repairs to dikes and other critical infrastructure will stop a repeat of the catastrophic flooding and mudslides of last week.
Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told reporters Monday that Canada’s West Coast will be hit by a “parade of storms” starting with heavy precipitation in the hard-hit Fraser Valley east of Vancouver on Thursday.
He added that this stream of subtropical moisture coming from the Pacific Ocean could melt snow at higher elevations. Then another atmospheric river of rain will touch down on Saturday, he said.
The precipitation is not expected to come close to last week’s heavy rainfall, which was estimated to have broken records in 20 B.C. communities, but the floods and landslides mean the landscape is at a greater risk for more of these events, he said. The extreme weather, which started on Nov. 14, affected broad swaths of Southern British Columbia and prompted evacuation orders that are still keeping roughly 14,000 people out of their homes.
“These are non-negligible totals and they are likely to exacerbate the vulnerabilities on the ground,” Mr. Castellan said.
Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Public Safety Minister and Solicitor-General, opened Monday’s provincial flood briefing with optimism, noting a major dike breach in Abbotsford has been patched with the assistance of Canadian soldiers, and a local pump station is moving water again from nearby Sumas River into the larger Fraser.
Plus, he said, after talking with Environment Canada and his counterparts in Washington State, it appears the Nooksack River is unlikely to flood this week and send water again gushing north over the international border into Abbotsford.
Mr. Farnworth said fuel supplies seem to be holding steady, with no reports of panicked buyers violating the 30-litre limit imposed on Friday and more gasoline coming from Alberta and the United States. Trans Mountain announced Monday that its pipeline will restart in some capacity by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, Merritt announced Monday afternoon that some of its 7,000 residents, displaced last week, can finally return to their homes as early as Tuesday because the community has “achieved a number of operational objectives.”
The evacuation order for north of the city’s RCMP station is also to be lifted Tuesday afternoon.
“While challenges continue, there is reason for hope,” Mr. Farnworth said.
One of those challenges is getting clean drinking water. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has warned people living in flooded areas to be wary of contaminants such as fuel, fertilizer, agricultural waste or animal carcasses. The Ministry of Health has advised people to check with their licensed drinking water supply system to make sure their tap water is safe.
Madjid Mohseni, a University of British Columbia professor who researches drinking water quality, said water is supplied across B.C. in two ways: through private systems, or larger ones servicing municipal or bigger communities.
Private systems rely on groundwater throughout the province, especially the Interior, and that supply could be contaminated if wellheads are not sealed properly. Dr. Mohseni suggested owners of those private wells have their water tested.
Community water supplies, he added, could be at risk as well, especially if the treatment system does not have the technology to allow proper filtration.
“Unfortunately, many places in the province or many communities in the province are like that,” he said.
Mr. Farnworth said Merritt’s water treatment plant is “getting close” to being back in operation, which will allow more of the evacuees from the Interior community to return if their properties are not flooded.
Still, the food supply chain remains in decent shape in large part because highway crews have repaired two routes connecting the Lower Mainland with the Interior and the North for commercial trucking and people on essential trips, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming told reporters at the same news conference.
As an indication of how tenuous some of these infrastructure repairs have been, roughly an hour after Mr. Fleming stated that Highway 3 east out of Metro Vancouver was open, his ministry tweeted out an update saying it had been closed again.
“Sorry for the confusion on our part. This is a NEW washout occurring late this morning. Crews are on site,” the province’s DriveBC account posted. Hours later, the ministry announced the highway had reopened.
Amanda Brittain, director of marketing and communications for BC Egg, which oversees and manages the province’s egg farming industry, said Abbotsford’s farmers are concerned about the predicted rain.
“Right now, all farms in the Sumas Prairie have a supply of feed, potable water and fuel [to run generators]. We plan to top up supplies by Wednesday evening just in case the predicted rain makes roads impassable again.”
From the window of a Canadian Forces CH-146 Griffon helicopter Monday, Sumas Prairie appeared all but consumed by muddy water, the roofs of barns and houses offering the only clues that the low-lying land was once a major agricultural hub.
Members of the Canadian Forces from four military bases have begun surveying that plain as well as other flood-ravaged areas of Southern B.C. and familiarizing themselves with the airspace and the destruction below.
Just past Hope on the eastern fringe of the Fraser Valley, entire sections of the highway remain collapsed, with heavy machinery sitting atop mounds of dirt. No massive pooling of water was observed in Merritt, where the Coldwater River jumped its banks last week and flooded the community from its southern end.
Lieutenant-Colonel Danny Gagné-Rainville, an Air Task Force commander, said he will be keeping an eye on the rain forecasted for this week.
“With the rain, we are worried about the floods themselves for sure, depending on the quantity, but it may affect our flight operations as well, depending on the ceilings and their quantity of rain, so we’re keeping a close look on that,” he said.
“For this type of operation, it would be preferable to fly in [clear] conditions so that the pilots can see instead of flying into clouds. So it will affect the altitude which we can operate. But for short distances, the ceilings are high enough to not affect operations.”
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