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Water advisory issued, main dike breach 90% repaired as storms arrive in Abbotsford

'Continue to pray for us, because we desperately need that,' says Abbotsford's mayor.
Screenshot 2021-11-24 142819
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun at a press conference discussing flooding in the Sumas Prairie.

A "Do Not Use Water Advisory" has been issued by the City of Abbotsford for Sumas Prairie as broken pipes and potentially toxic water lie in the middle of the flooded area.

In a press conference held Nov. 24, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun explained floodwaters have pooled in the eastern section of Sumas Prairie; in that same area, there are damaged pipes that transport water through the region. As the water may have toxic substances in it, Braun explained, the water is only useful for flushing toilets.

"There is fertilizer out there, there's fuel tanks, both gasoline and diesel tanks. There's a lot of tractors that are underwater, there's a lot of vehicles underwater," he said. "So all of that is migrating, I'm pretty sure, into the water, which is why we want to make sure that the public doesn't drink that water."

Dead animals and plant matter are also in the water, complicating things. Braun noted the area's blueberry farms were facing devastating losses.

"We have 1,200 or some acres of blueberries that are underwater and after four or five days, it's my understanding based on a little bit of blueberry knowledge, that those plants have probably died," Braun said. "Which means they have to come up and they have to plant new ones."

"And a blueberry plant doesn't produce a good crop until year four and a better crop in year five."

He added that some farmers he's spoken with aren't sure they'll be able to do that, financially.

With three more storms predicted for the region in the next week, Braun is sure the city will be able to handle the first one well.

"It's the third one I'm more concerned about, but we don't have enough data yet," he said, adding he thinks they should be able to handle the rainfall. The main breach near No. 3 Road is 90% repaired and another three feet of height should be added by the time the first of the storms arrive. Other repairs and reinforcements are continuing.

The dikes have been a concern for a while, though, Braun noted.

"These dikes all need to come up. We've been saying that for 30 years," he said.

Conversations have happened with provincial and federal departments, but it's a big project.

"We need to rebuild these dikes and that's a $500-, $600-million bill," Braun said.

Inspections, meanwhile, continue; in a map shown during the press conference, water can be seen concentrated in the eastern portion of Sumas Prairie, while smaller pools speckle the region. Braun noted water is still seven feet deep at its deepest, hampering efforts.

"That's going to take a long time (to pump out)," he said, explaining inspections can't happen in those areas.

The 75-person rapid damage assessment task force has been working constantly, he said, and another 14 building inspectors have come from communities west of Abbotsford to help with the work.

Braun also took a moment to thank people for their messages of support.

"I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone. You know who you are," he said. "And just continue to pray for us, because we desperately need that."