March 21, 2018
Recent days have spoken to us of coming spring. Snow is (or was) melting; claims of sightings of robins have stirred our urges to pour over the seed catalogues and do a quick survey of our summer gear. Although the cold months seemed to drag, winter has almost passed us by, and that quite rapidly – three months since Christmas. But don’t get excessively excited – not yet. Winter might still give us a blast in parting. It has happened many times in many past seasons and we shouldn’t be surprised to get another couple of feet of snow. (Hey, hold your fire. Just because I said it, don’t suppose I caused it.)
Really, on my mind are not May dandelions and June roses, those ubiquitous and colorful reminders of passing spring; on my mind is water, muddy, moving water.
Following a grant of $150,000 from Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) for a study of flood hazards in Chetwynd, Council commissioned Urban Systems to provide Council with data on the flood hazards and information on how to address the potential threats before they again come to life in moody, raging little rivers of muddy water. In reality, any long-term measures Council can authorize will have to be done over time – years of time.
As you may know, there are two major streams that, in most years, flow rather serenely through our home town. (There is a third but by the time it hits town it is deep enough in the gorge that little damage can be done.) Four times in the last 54 years these same serenely flowing streams ran amok doing enormous damage to District infrastructure, businesses, and homes. It’s a costly business to hold our own against unrestrained nature.
There are a few defenses that the community can take during a crisis. As we see the storm approaching we can deploy equipment to vulnerable locations such as bridges, culverts, and stream bends to remove rock, gravel, and debris as it accumulates. (During the last crisis we removed 600 truckloads of gravel from the streams to keep the water moving where it should.) Additionally, we can sandbag low-lying areas. Really, theirs is not much else that we can do in a crisis.
Long-term prevention of flooding could include such work as diking and raising bridges, culverts, and streets, costly undertakings when there are so many other needs to eat up our tax dollars. That said, according to the Urban Systems study, there are only a few locations where the creek channels have insufficient capacity to carry extreme event flows. Council will have to start working these into the annual capital budgets, a necessity that will reduce capital expenditures on paving and other projects.
When no crisis exists, environmental regulations prohibit entry into streams to do preventative work such as lowering the beds or removing downed trees and other debris.
In reality, prevention is much more cost effective than recovery. It’s just harder to do. That is, it is harder (read that as next to impossible) to get authorization to do the pre-emptive work, understood to be gravel and sediment management, in a timely manner that makes sense. It makes eminent sense to put an excavator in the creek in appropriate, well-managed locations, when there is no flow, to lower the bed a foot or two and clear out debris giving water more room to maneuver than to put in six excavators during a crisis to bail out hundreds of tons of rock that is tearing up the channels and destroying fish and wild-life habitat.
As we look at the snow pack in the water sheds above town, for now we can only look, our thoughts go to the real spring melt. Perhaps our spring will give us a slow melt with little rain. As we recall, the previous four floods all occurred after the spring melt. Nature is a fickle and wonderful thing. We will see what happens as it happens.
In the meantime, I will be asking Council to begin a flood-prevention program based on the results of the Urban Systems report that may result in reduced damage in the coming years within the District of Chetwynd. In the same meantime, do what you can within the rule of law to protect your own properties.
Oh, by the way: “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can” (Sidney Smith, 1771-1845). So let’s not make that mistake.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor