Don Flucker says taking a bath in his Ladner float home at low tide has become an interesting challenge - a rising silt sandbar makes the entire structure tilt by 35 centimetres.
"We pull the plug and half the water stays in the tub because the water leans away from the drain as the home settles on the silt, so we can't get rid of half of it," said the builder, who lives just off the southern arm of the Fraser River. "We've got to push it up to the drain."
And although there is no structural damage to the two-storey, 150-square-metre float home, and furniture does not yet slide across the floor, Mr. Flucker believes it will only get worse. Most of the homes in his Port Guichon strata and farther down Ladner Reach are in similar straits. One neighbour, he said, sees his home lean by almost a metre several times a month.
He said he had received estimates of $60,000 to dredge and remove the buildup beneath the six float homes that make up his water-lot strata. The lots are leased from the Fraser River Port Authority, which cares for the river on behalf of the federal government, and all the householders are aware of the responsibility of keeping their lots clear of sand.
"But with conditions as they are in other parts of the river, we'd be lucky to get three years use out of spending that much money," he said.
What they object to is that nearby secondary channels have not been dredged since 1992, Mr. Flucker said. When those channels silt up, current flow is disrupted and that accelerates the process, he said.
"When we bought our property here in 1988, we were told to expect the channel to be dredged by the authorities every five years," he said. "This has simply not happened."
With the record freshet melt-off earlier this year bringing washed-out earth from the mountains in B.C.'s Interior, even more silt found its way to his part of the Fraser. "The problem is that there is no water in the other parts of the river because of the amount of silting up, so when we dredge out under our homes and we're not sitting on the bottom any more, it is very quickly filled back in by silt that no longer flows out to [Georgia]Strait," Mr. Flucker said.
He said the Ladner situation is not unique; float-home owners from Westham Island to Gunderson Slough on the Surrey-Delta boundary are blaming the lack of secondary-channel dredging on the increased amount of silt beneath their homes.
However, he said, their concerns are not taken seriously by the port authority.
Downriver from Mr. Flucker's water lot is the Ladner Reach Marina. Its owner, Mike Owens, rents moorage to float homes and is renovating one in which he plans to live.
"I've noticed it getting worse. I had 19 feet of water at low tide in 1990 and last year, I had 3½ feet above the water level, and you can go to other places that are worse," he said. "The harbour of Ladner handles one small fish farm, 80 commercial fishing boats and 300 yachts, and the channel has gone from 11 feet to about one foot at low tide in five years."
Mr. Owens represents the 300 leaseholders of the General Commercial User Group on the Fraser River Port Authority board and is sympathetic to the port authority's lack of funding. Ottawa, he said, has had a take-it-or-leave-it approach to funding the dredging since 1999, apart from former fisheries minister Geoff Regan.
"But he didn't last long enough, did he?" Mr. Owens said. He says the risk goes beyond float homes.
"Looking at the big picture, some people might think float homes are not important, but the silting up in the river could one day lead to catastrophic flooding. That nearly happened this past spring."
The federal Department of Public Works dredged the river and secondary channels until 1999, when responsibility for the area around Vancouver was handed over to Fraser River Port Authority. Its spokesman, Mark Erdman, said he agreed that commercial shipping was the authority's priority and added that there was never enough money to clear every waterway.
"Certainly, historically, I would say that is true that our responsibility has really been to maintain the shipping channel for the large ships, it has not been to address all of the secondary channels," he said.
Mr. Erdman said primary shipping channels were consistently swept, but secondary channels were a little more haphazard and laid this responsibility at the door of the federal government, which provides funding.
"We've always said we'd dredge the secondary channels if we had the money and resources to do it. We haven't had the resources. In fact, we're running a deficit of around $3-$4-million on our dredging costs."
The three port authorities that govern Lower Mainland waterways - Fraser River, North Fraser and Vancouver - will amalgamate early next year, he said. This, he believed, would streamline operations and, it was hoped, dredging of the smaller waterways could be stepped up.
"We're hopeful that maybe we can do some of them, but that decision hasn't been made and won't be until the amalgamation takes place."
But despite the inconvenience, Mr. Flucker said he is not ready to abandon his otherwise idyllic home. The next series of extreme low tides are due to take place at 11 p.m. over the weekend, and he knows the house will tilt once more. He said he and the other residents will be forced to dredge long before the port authority acts.
"It's getting to the point where we may have to lift our houses and put them up on land. I love the water, though I'd love it even more if we didn't have these pressures," he said.