Relief is finally on the way for flood-weary residents who live along the Birkenhead River.
Last Tuesday, Pemberton council joined the Lil’wat Nation in giving support for proposed flood mitigation work to the river after the project received a grant from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
The federal money will go towards removing gravel from a blocked channel, as laid out in the Birkenhead River Flood Mitigation Plan. The work is slated to begin in March and wrap up later that month.
“This will make a huge impact on everybody’s quality of life all along that area,” said Coun. Mike Richman, who lives near the Grandmother Slough, which was clogged in 2003 during a major flood and has continued to cause major problems over the last decade.
“It’s huge news. It’s great news. It takes us to a 50-year flood level, which means every 50 years or so there’s a high water event that could affect us… On almost a yearly basis there were high water incidents. The lake road would get flooded and shut down. The water would flow over septic fields bringing that sort of water back up on the surface. The mosquito population was mind-blowing.”
While emergency work on the river has helped curb flooding by the Grandmother Slough — where Richman’s three and a half-acre property was reduced to just one and a half acres during high water season — some properties have suffered so badly that families haven’t been able to grow produce on them.
“There was frustration in the past with the lack of coordination,” Richman said. “So many jurisdictions have been involved — the regional district, the band land, the federal government and the provincial government — every level you can imagine, but what’s been nice is watching everyone come together and coordinate their efforts.”
Steve Flynn, operations and maintenance manager with the Pemberton Valley Dyking District, echoes that sentiment. “The project management will be a combined effort between the Pemberton Valley Dyking District (PVDD) and the Lil’wat First Nation,” he said. “It’s a cooperative thing. A lot of stakeholders in the Pemberton corridor have come together to work on this and it’s been a great experience.”
Not only will the gravel removal help beleaguered residents, but it will also give the river’s salmon population a boost.
“What happens when we get floods like we’ve been having is the water goes over the bank and onto people’s property and farmland and all the little baby salmon go with it,” Flynn said. “When the water recedes, they’re stranded in places where they can’t get back to the river and they die. It’s a huge loss of fish when we have these floods. We’re hopefully going to eliminate that unless we get a huge flood, but for normal conditions and freshet, there won’t be any stranding taking place. We’re enhancing the fish habitat dramatically.”
The gravel removal will begin in March, in hopes of completing the work while water levels are still low. After that, the PVDD will monitor the river and conduct maintenance. “Part of our mitigation plan is to extend the berm we built last year and put in a water survey gauge on the river, which it had for many years before it was decommissioned in the early ‘70s,” Flynn said. “We’d like to get that reactivated to monitor and predict the water conditions.”