BRITISH Columbia Premier John Horgan and Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced further bilateral co-operation between B.C. and Washington state to build a sustained and ongoing transboundary initiative to address Nooksack River flooding prevention and response.
Their announcement followed months of high-level discussions after the catastrophic flood in November 2021 that displaced an estimated 500 people in Whatcom County, Washington, led to the evacuation of more than 14,000 people in B.C., and resulted in billions of dollars in damage across B.C. Flooding in the Nooksack watershed has been a long-standing issue for residents, Tribes and First Nations, and government leaders.
“Washington state and British Columbia have a unique role to play in addressing the urgent challenge of Nooksack River flooding,” Inslee said. “Flooding will continue to worsen in the face of population growth, development and climate change, and this challenge is bigger and more urgent than any level of government can solve on its own. Long-term, sustainable solutions will require resources from all levels of government on both sides of our border, and we are committed to working together to leverage input and significant expertise from impacted communities.”
Washington state and B.C. officials will begin initial engagement and process planning this month. They will work with First Nations, Tribal and local governments, and stakeholders to identify the areas that need co-ordinated work, and develop the governance structure and work plan. The two governments will announce the details of the Nooksack transboundary flooding initiative this spring.
“We are proud to co-ordinate with our Washington neighbours on devastating flooding from the Nooksack watershed,” said Horgan. “There is tremendous expertise on both sides of the border and our work will bring together the necessary resources and the relevant experts to help identify, evaluate and advance solutions so that all adjacent communities are better prepared for the inevitable impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change.”
Following a period of initial engagement and process planning, Inslee and Horgan intend for this transboundary initiative to drive the design of projects and programs and identify sources of funding. The initiative will build on local efforts on both sides of the border and seek to protect public infrastructure, farms, salmon and related ecosystems, as well as communities both upriver and downriver, particularly those disproportionately impacted by flooding.
Earlier this year, U.S. federal authorities approved federal disaster assistance to impacted communities in northwest Washington, including taking the rare step of approving Individual Assistance for this type of disaster. In the recently completed 2022 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature approved $750,000 for staffing and technical support for flood planning, $600,000 for disaster assistance to Whatcom County farmers and ranchers, $2 million for Nooksack River flood mitigation, and $2 million for the Nooksack Valley School District to respond to flood damage and future flood risks.
B.C. has budgeted $1.5 billion over the next three years on recovery supports for people and communities impacted by the floods. The Canadian federal government and the government of B.C. have also established a joint committee along with First Nations, to ensure effective response and recovery, while enhancing climate adaptation and response measures.