A catastrophic flood warning issued for Sumas Prairie when a pump system set to fail

Tens of thousands of dairy cows are at risk of drowning and hundreds of thousands of chickens

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The Fraser River was predicted to flood into the Sumas Prairie and surrounding areas on Tuesday night, possibly causing catastrophic damage, significant risk to human life and ruin of livestock.

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Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun made an urgent call at 8pm for all people to evacuate the area immediately. This included hundreds of farmers who stayed back to take care of their livestock and birds after an evacuation earlier due to initial flooding caused by an overflowing river just south of the border.

“I know it is difficult for farmers to quit their livelihoods. But lives are more important to me now than cattle and chickens, ”said Braun.

Fraser Valley farmers supply 50 percent of all eggs, chickens and dairy products from BC. There are 45,000 dairy cows in the valley, and each chicken farm has about 25,000 birds.

The reason for the urgent announcement was the imminent failure of the key Barrowtown Pump Station – a four-pump station that keeps the Fraser River away from the Sumas Lake Canal and protects many square miles of main agricultural land.

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Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service Chief Darren Lee said sandbags were placed around the pump station to buy time and smaller pumps were flown in to consolidate the station. All four pumps were running, but they were unable to stop the rise of the water in the canal and once water entered the pump station, he said, the pumps would fail.

If the pumps fail, a emergency broadcast will be made to residents of Abbotsford and Chilliwack via text message.

Lee said rapid water rescue activities were sent to the area so that at first light they could be used if people were blocked by rising water. After the pumping station fails, the water level was expected to reach about 10 feet (three meters) in the prairie – which could last from two to seven days.

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“With the failure of this key infrastructure, water within the Sumas Prairie will not be able to be pumped out and water from the Fraser River will begin to enter the already flooded Sumas Prairie area,” the City of Abbotsford wrote in a prepared statement. telling people to leave the area.

The event is predicted to be disastrous. The City of Abbotsford has closed domestic water service to the area.

In the city’s warning to remaining residents to quickly leave, it states that there is a “significant risk to life.”

Braun said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Tuesday night and they promised to provide pumps and other equipment and help as much as possible.

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In a statement released late Tuesday night Farnworth reiterated Braun’s request to residents to get to safety immediately.

“If you are in the Sumas Prairie and have not already evacuated, you must do so immediately. Do not stay for livestock or property. Flood conditions have rapidly escalated and pose a serious risk to life, ”he said in the statement.“ This event is predicted to be catastrophic. Residents who cannot safely evacuate are asked to call 911 and report your location immediately. “

Farnworth also said the province provides the City of Abbotsford with any resources it needs.

“I also contacted Bill Blair, federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness, to ask for federal assistance on this incident and the flood situation in general. This includes ground and air support from Canadian Armed Forces,” Farnworth added.

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According to a 2013 report written by City of Abbotsford staff looking for money to upgrade the electrical system at the Barrowtown facility (built between 1977 and 1983), if the station fails it will result in about $ 500 million in damages and impact “major transportation” and utility. corridors such as Highway 11, 1, railroads and underground gas / oil lines. “

“A major flood in the area will significantly impact food producers and food processing companies, and would cause job losses that usually take 5-10 years to recover,” the report stated. There are about 1,400 farms in the Sumas Prairie.

The last time a major flood event occurred in the Fraser River was in May 1948 when 16,000 people were forced from their homes and 220 square kilometers of land arrived under water. Ten people drowned.

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In March, the Fraser Basin Council issued a report stating that a major flooding of the river could cost between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billion in damages.

The council warned that the Fraser dam system that protects large parts of the valley was threatened with failure.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

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dcarrigg@postmedia.com


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