Significant flood mitigation work will take place on the Birkenhead River in early 2014 if a pending application for federal funding is approved.
The Birkenhead River Technical Steering Committee — which includes representatives of all three local government agencies, the Pemberton Valley Dyking District (PVDD) and provincial and federal stakeholders — recently reconvened to determine if any work could be completed in advance of the 2014 spring thaw to alleviate the annual flood risk in the Grandmother Slough and Continental Pole yard area.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), which is part of the river committee, recently indicated that funding is available for disaster mitigation work on First Nations land. The PVDD and Lil’wat Nation jointly developed a funding proposal that has been submitted to AANDC. If successful, the money would allow for the work identified as high priority to be complete by April.
“Our hope is that we can access some of the funding that’s left at the end of (AANDC’s) fiscal year,” said David Dorrans, director of lands, resources and public infrastructure for the Lil’wat Nation.
Properties in the affected area along the Birkenhead, as well as parts of Highway 99, face flood threats and sewage backup annually during the freshet season. During the major flood of the Pemberton Valley in 2003, a channel near Grandmother Slough was filled with debris and has remained blocked. That has contributed to the river overflowing its southern banks during high-water periods.
Though temporary, reactionary mitigation work has taken place in past years, the work earmarked for completion in the funding request would offer a more permanent, proactive solution.
PVDD operations and maintenance manager Steve Flynn said clearing out that channel is the most important step to reducing the flood risk.
“If you open up that channel, it allows for the water to flow away from the Pole yard and away from Grandmother Slough,” said Flynn. “That’s priority No. 1.”
Flynn said the next area of focus would be to extend the training berm that was built behind the Pole yard in response to the flood threat earlier this year. The river committee would also like to see a water gauge reactivated to help monitor river activity.
The estimated total cost to complete all of the work is $520,000.
It’s unclear when the AANDC will make a decision on the funding request, or how quickly that money could be released if the application is successful. Recognizing this, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board approved $400,000 worth of bridge financing out of reserves to help cover the initial project costs if the federal money is approved.
“This is a good example of all of the different agencies and affected partners here in the valley working together,” said Dorrans.