Rising river waters threaten Tseshaht First Nation

Gord Johns in the News

Source: CBC, by Megan Thomas

People who have been anxiously watching the water rise near Port Alberni can expect to see the Somass River peak late on Tuesday, the B.C. River Forecast Centre said.

The Tseshaht First Nation has been under a state of emergency since Nov. 4 because of the flood risk from the river. Rising water could also force the closure of Highway 4 to Ucluelet and Tofino, officials said.

"We'd expect to see peak flows by Tuesday night, overnight, and into Wednesday morning," said hydrologist Tobi Gardner. "Those flows are possibly comparable to what we saw in 2014 in that area."

In 2014, the river spilled its banks and damaged a number of houses on the reserve. The community has faced a flood risk each year since.

"It's been three years in a row. Never before been like this," said Tseshaht emergency coordinator Hugh Braker.

"Our residents are very nervous right now. We are waiting to see exactly what is going to happen."

The area is being hit with another major dump of rain following weeks of precipitation, said Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

"In the mountains where precipitation is enhanced we are going to see anywhere from 250 millimetres to 400 milimetes (of rain) through to Wednesday morning," he said.

BC Hydro has been working to manage the water flow in river systems on Vancouver Island by spilling water at strategic times, but record-setting rain is keeping reservoirs full, said spokesperson Stephen Watson.

"Our flood risk management capabilities are diminishing," he said. "It's really quite remarkable, the storms, one after another for the past four weeks."

Flooding is also possible on Tuesday in the community of Courtenay as the Puntledge River rises.

The B.C River Forecast Centre also warns that another rain storm is in now the forecast for Vancouver Island later this week.

Flood prevention needed

A Vancouver Island MP says vulnerable communities need more help to deal with more frequent floods brought on by severe weather. 

New Democrat MP Gord Johns is calling for a national plan to help cities, towns and reserves adapt to changing weather and rising sea levels.

"We are seeing rapidly changing climate and this is putting a lot of pressure on communities to prepare and to build infrastructure that's necessary to protect them," he said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has been pushing for a similar national strategy since claims due to severe weather started to shoot up several years ago.

"Prior to 2009, they weren't really notable. But since then, they have been at or above a billion dollars every year ," spokesperson Aaron Sutherland said.

"2016 will be no different and it will even set a new Canadian record in that regard."