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Expert says it's too early to predict

City prepares for possible fraser river flood

While the warm weather this week is enjoyable, it is also cause for some concern, according to Dave Jones, manager of the City of New Westminster's emergency program office.

"It obviously is a great influencer on the way things melt," he said of the weather.

Jones was referring to the high snow pack levels reported this year, which could lead to higher than normal water levels in the lower Fraser River.

The Provincial River Forecast Centre completed a snow pack report on May 1 that stated the Fraser River Basin snow packs were higher than normal by about 129 per cent.

"This is really a weather event, it's got nothing to do with snow," Jones said regarding possible flood risks for the region. "We're just watching the weather carefully."

The Nechako River and upper Fraser River basins - the headwaters for the lower Fraser River - are primarily of concern right now, Jones said.

The city is communicating with the forecast centre and Emergency Management B.C. to stay on top of information as it is released, he said.

New Westminster has an advanced planning group that meets weekly from January on, doing dyke inspections and inventory counts, he said.

The city has also inspected its pumping stations and outflows, Jones said, and has taken an inventory of temporary mitigation measures, including lock blocks, supplies and equipment.

Parts of the city that are in the flood plain include the Braid industrial area, Queensborough and the Quayside area, Jones said.

The city has changed how it handles flood preparation since levels in the Fraser River were at about 130 per cent in 2007, according to Jones, who said the city now has a business continuity plan and an evacuation plan.

"It's a real community effort," he said, adding the city plans to provide information updates to residents' associations.

While there was flooding in Northern B.C. in 2007, the lower Fraser River region - including New Westminster and Burnaby - remained unscathed.

The situation for the Lower Mainland in 2007 wasn't nearly as worrisome as some thought, Marvin Rosenau, an instructor with BCIT's fish wildlife and recreation technology program, pointed out.

It has since been compared to the story of the boy who cried wolf, the British Columbia Institute of Technology instructor added.

"Everybody was freaking out really early," Rosenau said of the 2007 warnings.

Rosenau has been an instructor at the institute since 2006. He was previously a provincial fisheries biologist, and has worked in the field of fisheries since 1975 - specializing in river habitat since the mid-'80s, he said.

He has dealt with snow-pack issues and with floodway and water stewardship managers over the years, Rosenau added, saying he is a professional in the fisheries field but a layman when it comes to engineering issues.

It is too early to tell what this season will bring, Rosenau said, but added he prefers taking a cautious approach.

There are some large snow packs in the upper Fraser River area and in the lower Fraser River region as well, though the middle region is only slightly above average levels, for the most part, Rosenau pointed out.

While city staff are concerned a sustained heat could bring on a melt that would elevate river levels dramatically, Rosenau said the heat this early on in the season isn't the main concern.

"If we keep having blasting heat weather patterns early in the season, it peels off the snow quickly and minimizes flood risk very quickly," he explained.

He compared the situation to the Fraser River flood of 1948, which he said started with a high snow pack, a long cold season, and a sudden heat wave at the end of June combined with a lot of rain.

"Simultaneous to it getting really hot, towards the end of June, it rained like crazy," he explained. "We basically have a whole month to blow off snow pack before we get to the critical period that happened in 1948."

But Rosenau added that doesn't mean a flood won't happen - just that it is too early to say whether there is a significant flood risk in the region.

The Provincial River Forecast Centre planned to complete another snow pack report on May 15, which will likely be released on May 22, according to its website.

Snow pack reports and other information are available on the centre's website at bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca. The City of New Westminster also has detailed information on its website, at www.newwestcity.ca.

editorial@royalcityrecord.com

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