Governments let down British Columbians in record floods

Piotr Bein, 24.11.2021, minor edits 25.11.2021


Introduction and summary

Sumas Praire – food producer and transportation corridor

BC gov’t and City of Abbotsford warning systems inadequate

Freebee from neighbours

Blame atmospheric rivers

The responsibility

Photo gallery

Introduction and summary

Has British Columbia (BC) gov’t missed issuing a flood warning by a day or two?

If the answer is yes, then they might be responsibile for causing hundreds of cattle and multitude of pultry die on flooded farms in Sumas Praire, while remaining animals were trapped and in desperate need of food and fresh water.

The productivity of other kinds of farms in the area could suffer longer-term for the impacts submersion has on soil and crops like berries, and for pollutants and decaying animals brought with the floodwaters that may have taken away fertile topsoils when drained into the Fraser River.

Dike inadequacy in Sumas Praire is typical of over 1100 km of BC’s regulated dikes. Beside flood defences, life-line infrastructure (transportation, telecom, electricity transmission, pipelines, water supply and sewerage…) needs to be upgraded as well, debt-free for the extreme weather events projected to increase in intensity and frequency. Confronted with other natural hazards such as earthquakes, can BC’s 6 million population afford required infrastructure upgrades?

The provincial and local governments need to work out coping and mitigating solutions with limited budgets. In the case of Sumas Praire the authorities have failed, both by long-term negligence and incompetence in face of imminent disaster. Never mind the risk of lehar from Mt. Baker, kind of mud flow produced by volcanos, also potentially arriving via Nooksack River. But lehar flooding can’t be drained nor pumped out.

Since the government have failed, Sumas Praire farmers can, and should, take their business in their own hands in advance of flooding. With the American tool that monitors real flows in Nooksack River, it should be easy.

Sumas Praire – food producer and transportation corridor

Drained in the 1920s for settler farming in face of First Nation settlements around Sumas Lake, its former bottom is under water since November 16th, until Fraser River drops sufficiently low for the floodgates to open at Barrowtown pump facility and drain Sumas Praire, a prime farmland and a sizeable contributor to Western Canada’s food production.

The area produces a large part of BC’s milk, dairy and poultry in intensive-type of husbandry. Hundreds of farms representing high capital investements in farm buildings, stately country homes, equipment and storage of feed and farm supplies now stand in water. Sumas Prairie also grows ca. half of Abbotsford’s produce, most of the forage for its livestock, and much of the berries.

Trans-Canada Highway, pipelines and major power lines are located there. The freeway connects Canada to the harbour in Vancouver, while the torrents that inundated it in Sumas Praire, have severely damaged alternative routes. The total damages in Sumas Praire could amount to hundreds of millions dollars, according to a study of flood risk completed a year earlier.

The study was commissioned out of an unsolved issue of substandard dikes in the Sumas Praire (and the region in general), but the root of the problem dwells south of Canada – USA border. Following a few days of heavy rains, Nooksack River carrying runoff from Cascade Mountains spilled over its left dike at Everson in Whatcom county, Washington state. The spilled water flowed north to Canada, down the grade through meadows and farm ditches. Picked up by the catchment of the Sumas River, it ended up in the river’s diked section on the northwest limit of Sumas Prairie. The massive inflow of water overtopped and breached the dike, flooding the farmland.

Flooding from the Nooksack River overtopped the Sumas Dike and created two breaches, indicated in red on the map.
Satellite view of flooded Sumas Praire just south-east of the Abbotsford city. Yellow line denotes the Sumas River dike. The river is discernible by the meanders showing through the flood water. Two red marks on the dike line record locations of the breaches. A third breach (unmarked here) is near No. 2 Road. Trans-Canada Highway (reddish) runs together with South Parallel Road, flanking north-west limits of the flooded area. Vedder Canal (blue) drains the former Sumas Lake bottom to Barrowtown Pumping Station (black square) that pushes the water into Fraser River located to the north, or opens its floodgates when Fraser River runs low. Southermost portion of the white dashed line marks the Canada – USA border, with Huntington located where Sumas Road crosses the border .

In 1990, Trans-Canada Highway was shut down for 26 hours in a lesser event when flooding from the USA swamped the Whatcom Road interchange and the western portions of Sumas Prairie. This time we have a more devastating event. See photo gallery at the end of the article. The disaster could have been predicted and losses mitigated, if BC decision makers followed US weather and flood forecasts, alerts and warnings. The governments of BC and Abbotsford have evidently issued farm evacuation orders a day or two short of the time needed by the farmers to evacuate animals and move equipment out of harm’s way.

BC gov’t and City of Abbotsford warning systems inadequate

The BC government does not collect hydrometric data for Sumas River anymore. There used to be a gauge on the river at Huntington, a village located at the international border, but it no longer feeds data into the system. Flood warnings and advisories are issued by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. They first issued a flood warning for Sumas River at 2:45 pm on Nov. 15, and maintained it on Nov.17 and Nov. 19. A flood warning means that river levels have exceeded bankfull or will exceed bankfull imminently, and that flooding of areas adjacent to the rivers affected will result.

Two lesser risk conditions preceed the flood warning: a flood watch and a high streamflow advisory. For Sumas Praire, both of these should trigger an alarm with farmers, given the poor state of dikes, but they were not issued. Last-minute flood warning us an unacceptable negligence of government duty.

The BC ministerial flood warnings for Sumas River refer the user to City of Abbotsford emegency alerts for details. Abbotsford mayor in press conferences mentioned his long-standing concerns about dikes in Sumas Praire and how he watched the floodwaters arrive by Sumas River. But there is no paper trail on the city’s website that would prove early warnings of the disaster approaching, such as, for example, monitoring the US hydrograph for Nooksack River at Everson, or processing pertinent Whatcom county press contents daily.

A back review of one media outlet south of the border proves the City authorities reacted too late, compared to alarms starting on Nov 12, 2021 in Whatcom county press:

Here’s why flooding is a concern through the weekend in Whatcom, Skagit counties

[…] In Whatcom County, the Nooksack River was running near minor flood stage but not expected to top its banks […] But that could change as another Pineapple Express — or atmospheric river — is expected to bring drenching rain to both the lowlands and mountains of Western Washington on Sunday night, Nov. 14. Forecast models for Whatcom County show the Nooksack cresting between minor to moderate flood stage at all measuring stations on Monday night, Nov. 15.

Later reports by the same newspaper confirm the dreadful prediction, up to assessing damage to flooded Whatcom county towns by Nov. 19th:

A prudent decision maker on the Canadian side of the border would issue a flood warning no later than Nov. 14, 2021, giving Sumas Praire farmers time to evacuate animals and protect farm facilities and equipment.

Freebee from neighbours

The US National Weather Service (NWS) provides updated readings of Nooksack River gauge at Everson on Nooksack River where it could overflow the dike and send floodwaters to Sumas Praire. For Everson gauge data, NWS uses two stages:

  • Flood stage 83.5 ft.Flood waters start to overflow the banks at Everson with flood waters inundating MainStreet and impacting low lying areas around the SR 544 bridge.
  • Action stage 83 ft. – Flood waters start to impact low lying areas near the SR 544 bridge in Everson.

For example, the level was 6.6 ft. below the flood stage (83.5 ft.) at 3:30 pm on Nov. 20, as seen in the graph below that I copied shortly after (since then, the graph in my blog editor updated itself automatically):

Nooksack River at Everson

Graphical forecasts are not available for Everson station. NWS advises to look up forecast crest information during times of high water on this page in text format; the Hydrologic Outlook is a bonus as it describes in general terms the atmospheric, river level and flood potential in the US area that may impact Sumas Praire. Alternatively, one can peruse the graph for North Cedarville gauge. Unlike the one for Everson, it features Nooksack flow and gauge level forecasts from atmospheric conditions.

A heavy rainfall in the Cascades could elevate the Everson gauge level back to an overflow and potential risk for Sumas Praire, to be assessed in conjunction with the progress of dike repair, the state of the Barrowtown pumping facility, ground saturation, runoff from local hills around Sumas Praire and other pertinent factors at a given time. For example, a failure of the pumps would prompt an earlier readiness to evacuate farm animals and infirm persons. Or if dike breaches from previous flood have not been fully repaired, then an earlier time should be chosen for evacuation to compensate for earlier flooding through the unfinished repairs.

One can subscribe to receive Evarson gauge hourly or daily readings by mobile phone or email, a free of charge public service of our American neighbours. Sumas Praire farmers should consult a hydrologist for advice on what value they should set as a trigger for notifications, depending on the length of time required to evacuate the animals, the elevation and location of the farm and evacuation way etc. factors. Subscription to North Cedarville gauge notifications is here.

The Nov. 16th disaster could have been predicted and animal loss mitigated with farmers’ own resources, if BC decision makers followed US weather and flood forecasts and warnings. BC gov’t and Abbotsford have evidently issued warnings and farm evacuation orders a day or two short of the time needed by the farmers to evacuate cattle and move equipment out of harm’s way. With the American tool that monitors real flows in Nooksack at Evarson, Sumas Praire farmers can, and should, take their business in their own hands in advance of flooding. Enough is enough.

Blame atmospheric rivers

The MSM blame the extreme weather behind Sumas Praire disaster on atmospheric river aka Pineapple Express.

BC gov’t, the same one that has succumbed to non-existent SARS CoV-2 fraud and scares British Columbians with fictitious “covid-19 cases”, failed to monitor weather patterns of potential grave consequences. How many deaths could have been mitigated with early warnings and travel bans — emergency measures justified this time? How many farmers could evacuate their livestock safely, orderly and effectively?

After the Pineapple Express has caused severe floods and deadly mudslides in BC last week, Environment Canada sat to designing a new ranking system for the weather pattern. Minister Farnworth spoke with the feds about the new ranking. UVic climatology professor Charles Curry explains: This will assist all of us in being better prepared for everything from localised flooding and winds to larger storm occurrences.

Oddly, the “newness” is only in Farnworth’s words. The article adds:

A scale of this magnitude might also give the city or provincial officials a framework to implement the existing Alert Ready system for floods caused by powerful atmospheric rivers. Unfortunately, since 2019, British Columbia has been the only jurisdiction in Canada that has not adopted the technology.

Unfortunately, indeed, considering that Farnworth failed to use Alert ready to mitigate the forest fires at the time Lytton went up in smoke and then the heat that killed hundreds in BC instantly. But that’s not all. Before Farnworth covered up his incompetence by talking to Environment Canada after the fact, on Nov. 15th morning he misled the public and the Abbotsford gov’t. According to Grace Kennedy of Fraser Valley Current, he declined to suggest that locals should be worried, and told reporters that Nooksack conditions were being monitored by local governments, who would be responsible for evacuation alerts if required. Kennedy reports Farnworth’s words:

“What’s critical right now. obviously, is the level of rainfall that’s still coming through, and then how quickly the rivers are rising,” he said around 9am [Nov. 15th] morning. “But I can tell you that those are being monitored.” Less than five hours later, the westernmost portion of the [Sumas Praire] prairie was evacuated as water from the Nooksack River continued to make its way north.

The responsibility

Why can’t the BC government and City of Abbotsford bureaucrats monitor Everson hydrograph 24/7/365? After all, it’s British Columbians like Sumas Praire heroic farmers and the consumers of the fruit of their hard work who pay for the politicians’ and government employee salaries, benefits and office quarters. With the US NWS tool, the local farmers would monitor Everson gauge levels, until BC and/or City of Aldergrove government get their act together. Monitoring the weather is ingrained in farmer planning throughout the year.

The criminal irresponsibility of the politicians for the disaster that re-created the old Sumas Lake at tremendous material, human and government image costs, is due for citizen investigation.

Criminal negligence and/or wilful inaction to bring about state of emergency and supply chain disturbance come to mind. Since Spring 2020, the same provincial gov’t has forced onto the public tyrranical lockdowns, absurd mask etc. orders leading to “vaccinations” with a bio-weapon under the pretext of a fraudulent plandemic. It would be congruent with their psychopathic motivation and indulgent abuse of the Emergency Program Act to make sure that an extreme weather event – be it natural or man-made — does not go to waste.

Photo and video gallery

Before-and-after satellite images show flood devastation in B.C.’s Sumas Prairie

Aearial view photos

Sophia Middleton took pictures and video of the disaster area on her Nov. 16th morning flight to Abbotsford Int’l Airport

City of Abbotsford website (scroll down to PHOTOS)

PHOTOS: Eastern Sumas Prairie still submerged in floodwaters

Abbotsford, B.C. farmers use jet skis, canoes to rescue cattle stranded by floodwaters

B.C. floods: New video shows Abbotsford dairy farm under 8 feet of water

B.C. flooding: Animal rescues continue on flood-stricken Sumas Prairie

Flooding in B.C. testing ‘resilience’ of dairy farmers, says association

B.C. farms take in rescued cows as milk supply chain cut off

Abbotsford, B.C. strengthening infrastructure, bracing for next atmospheric river


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is abbotsford-flood-highway-1-aerial.jpg
Trans-Canada Highway at Whatcom Road overpass east of Abbotsford. Inundated Sumas Praire to the right. Photo Jonathan Hayward
Trans-Canada highway flooded at north-west edge of Sumas Praire near Abbotsford, British Columbia. Photo Jonathan Hayward
Barns surrounded by water in Sumas Praire. Photo Ben Nelms
Sumas Praire residents rescued by boat. Local gov’t said 300 people remained stranded as of 7:30 am on Nov.17, surrounded by water meters deep. Photo Ben Nelms
Farmer helps his stranded cow navigate flooded ground
Farmers rescue cows stranded in a flooded barn in Sumas Praire. Photo Jennifer Gauthier
Rescue of cattle in flooded Sumas Praire. Photo Brad Mueller
Volunteers filled and delivered sandbags to flooded Sumas Prairie farms in Yarrow, on Nov. 19. Credits Ben Nelms/CBC
Soldiers help with rescue of chickens. Credits THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

By piotrbein