New research shows BC government failures on November 2021 floods/dikes

THE BC government failed to act decisively when told that dikes in one of the cities hit hardest by the November 2021 floods were at risk of failing due to years of neglect, new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC shows.

Based on a review of nearly 5,300 pages of documents released in response to a Freedom of Information request, the research shows that for four years running BC government officials failed to act on the knowledge that the City of Merritt’s dikes were in terrible shape.

“The provincial Inspector of Dikes received report after report from Merritt showing that its dikes were structurally unsound, yet the inspector never used powers to order the city to take corrective action,” CCPA-BC resource policy analyst Ben Parfitt said on Wednesday.

Under provincial law, dozens of local dike authorities are responsible for maintaining more than 300 dikes. They must file annual inspection reports with the province and the province has powers under the Dike Maintenance Act to order them to undertake repairs.

“For four years beginning in 2018, inspection reports filed by the City of Merritt with the provincial dike inspector clearly showed that the city’s dikes were in a deplorable state, including problems that were so bad they had ‘severely compromised’ the dikes. Those dikes went on to fail in 2021, without the city or province having done anything,” Parfitt said.

The research also found that the Town of Princeton and the City of Abbotsford did not properly report on their dikes.

Parfitt noted that his research underscores an ongoing problem: while local dike authorities have authority for dikes and floodplain management, they clearly lack the funds to do the job.

In Merritt, for example, the costs to rebuild dikes to a proper standard along the Coldwater and Nicola rivers ranges between $140 million to $160 million, while the funds collected annually in residential and business property taxes is $9 million, he explained.

The CCPA-BC is calling on the province to:

  • Assume authority for all dikes, which hundreds of local government representatives attending the Union of BC Municipalities annual convention endorsed in 2014 and 2015 and again in 2022 following the floods in November 2021 that devastated First Nation communities, the cities of Merritt and Abbotsford and the Town of Princeton.
  • Increase and dedicate provincial funding to upgrade structurally unsound or insufficient dikes, based on an assessment of those dikes most at risk.
  • Authorize a review by the Auditor General of the province’s regulation of dikes.

“Given that provincial dike inspectors work for the Ministry of Forests and the ministry also has responsibility for dams, logging, fighting wildfires and for providing early and effective warnings about imminent floods, we believe the Auditor General would perform a valuable public service by reviewing how these officials exercise their regulatory powers within their own spheres but also how they coordinate with one another,” Parfitt said.


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