Fraser Valley farming faces flood risk due to climate change

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — A new study raises alarms about potential high agricultural damages should peak water flows on the Fraser River increase as some climate change models predict.

A report published by the Fraser Valley Regional District and British Columbia Agriculture and Food Climate Change Initiative calculated flood losses for three scenarios:

■ a flood similar to 1894 with flows at 17,000 cubic metres per second at Hope, B.C., which assumed dikes in the district were breached.

■ a present day flood at flows equalling those predicted to occur once every 500 years, with a 17 percent flow increase for 2100 and a one metre sea level rise, to account for possible climate change effects; district dikes were assumed to breach

■ a present day flood at levels predicted to occur once in every 100 years with flows at 14,300 cubic metres per second at Hope and assuming that dikes in fair condition or better hold while those in less than fair condition fail

The report estimated that a flood similar to the one that occurred in 1894 would cause more than $800 million in damages to crops, agricultural buildings and equipment in the district under a long-term flood scenario.

The total economic impact from agricultural flood losses to Fraser Valley communities southeast of Vancouver could balloon to $1.1 billion, according to the report.

 The Fraser River’s peak flow normally occurs between mid-May and July.

The valley is responsible for 38 percent of B.C.’s gross annual farm receipts with 14 percent of the province’s farms.

According to the study, about 75,000 acres, representing 40 percent of the area’s land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, are susceptible.

“The economic value of agriculture in this region is over $3 billion dollars per year,” Jason Lum, chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, said in a news release.

“With a major (peak flow) flood, almost a third of the sector could be impacted, and that doesn’t include all of the non-agricultural infrastructure that would be affected.”

The report offered no single solution to ward off the worst-case scenario, but said several measures are needed.

Upgrades to critical dikes was identified as a top priority. The report also included recommendations for increased planning and actions that producers and others can take to reduce losses and aid in recovery following a major flood.

The report is part of a $300,000 fund to implement measures included in the Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategy. The fund is a federal-provincial initiative under Growing Forward 2.

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