Recent flooding could have been prevented, say residents of Grand Forks, B.C., neighbourhood

Residents of a low-lying neighbourhood near Grand Forks, B.C., are wondering why they’ve been issued evacuation orders.

Not because the nearby Kettle River is swollen with spring melt and recent heavy rainfall, but why future preparations weren’t done two years ago to prevent flooding this year.

The issue, say the residents, stems from catastrophic flooding in 2018, and how they say the City of Grand Forks and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary didn’t act in putting up a rock berm to help stop the river from overflowing its banks in the future.

On Tuesday, the regional district issued an evacuation order for six properties in Johnson Flats near Grand Forks.

In issuing the evacuation orders, the regional district said the Kettle River had cut off access to a cluster of homes on Beatrice Road and may have damaged structures.

Carol McQuarrie, a long-time area resident, says this isn’t her first flood, and that she’s staying home for now.

In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, McQuarrie said during the 2018 flood, around a dozen trees along the Kettle River were washed away. In turn, that led to that section of riverbank being eroded and a resulting low spot.

McQuarrie said they had been keeping an eye on the river recently and knew that it was rising, but thought everything would be fine.

That changed Monday evening when they spotted a large pool of water that had been mostly dry before.

Notably, the regional district said in issuing Tuesday’s evacuation orders that the river had breached an illegally constructed berm.

Asked about that berm, area residents say it never existed or that it had been in place for many years, and, illegal or not, it helped prevent flooding.

Regardless, she said, the area should have been built up to prevent future flooding in the aftermath of 2018, but it wasn’t

“Nothing has been done,” said McQuarrie. “This flood that we have right now could have been totally, totally prevented.”

On Tuesday, area resident Lydia Greene offered the same assessment.

She added that a petition was put together that “something has to be done before it happens again. The water gets so high, that it’ll come and devastate us.”

Added resident Gord Boyce: “It didn’t need to happen. All they had to do was bring in a bulldozer, restore that bank to the normal level and water wouldn’t have come that way.”

Regarding the berm, Boyce said he was told, “it was a man-made berm and they couldn’t replace it because it was illegal. It’s not illegal; it’s been there for 50 years at that height. All they had to do is restore the height of the riverbank back to where it was.”

A regional district spokesperson agreed that flooding from 2018 changed that section of riverbank.

“In past, it was sort of an old, kind of sandbags, sort-of earthen structure kind of berm there,” said Frances Maika, information officer for regional district’s Emergency Operations Centre.

Maika said the berm had kept the water from moving into the neighbourhood, but added the river was able to make its way inland through the new opening.

Maika added that the term illegal was government-speak for being unregulated, stating the history of the berm is long and storied.

Asked if the riverbank will be repaired, Maika said the regional district doesn’t have the jurisdiction to fix it.

“We’re going to be working with local residents, and that’s going to start with us having more discussions about what is possible,” said Maika.

“Some of this relates to having an overall plan on how to approach the issues. They’re a lot more complex than us just putting up one structure to protect one neighbourhood.

“Anything you do on the river impacts another area, so this is a dynamic, complex, hydrologically sophisticated problem, and it’s not one that’s going to be easily solved.”

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