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B.C. and Washington State agree to address Nooksack River flooding, set no timeline or obligations

Cross-border flooding in November 2021 contributed to billions in damage, forced tens of thousands of evacuations.

Nooksack River flooding
Bins of sand are placed across the road to form a temporary dike in the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford in 2021. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

A recent agreement signed by B.C. and Washington State to come up with projects to address flooding from the Nooksack River does not lay out a timeline or funding obligations.

While local government officials on both sides of the border welcomed the agreement, they stressed it is imperative to get on with solutions to complex problems, set priorities, and put up some money.

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In 2021, Nooksack River flooding contributed to billions in damages in the Fraser Valley. In the 1990s, a cross-border task force was created to find solutions after a similar flood, but no actions were taken.

A new seven-page agreement makes it clear nothing in it is legally binding and does not create any funding expectation or obligation for any of the parties.

Dylan Kruger, chairman of Metro Vancouver’s flood resiliency task force, stressed high-level government collaboration in the new cross-border initiative is needed to get results because that is who holds decision-making authority and funding.

Kruger, who said he has a seat at the cross-border discussions, added the agreement also underscores the need for the B.C. government to take back responsibility for dikes which was downloaded to municipalities in 2003, a demand endorsed at this fall’s Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual convention.

B.C. Premier David Eby can get on the phone and call Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee, but the mayors of Abbotsford or Delta cannot, said Kruger.

“I think there is an opportunity, with greater public awareness and greater political will, to get something done here. But we do need long-term, sustainable funding to make these upgrades in this region, which is in the billions of dollars,” he said.

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The agreement was signed by Eby and Inslee, and by three B.C. First Nations and two American tribes.

It outlines that parties agree to develop long-term solutions and spearhead the design of projects and programs and identify sources of funding.

The agreement, also signed by municipal government leaders in Abbotsford and Whatcom County, is in place for an initial period of four years.

B.C. Ministry of Emergency Management officials said a work plan that will set priorities is expected to be finalized in November.

In November 2021, extreme rain flooded the banks of the Nooksack River at Everson in Washington about 10 kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border, flowing north to Sumas and Abbotsford. It exacerbated flooding on the B.C. side of the border that caused billions of dollars in damage, killing more than 600,000 farm animals most of them chickens, and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. There was less damage on the U.S. side.

City of Everson Mayor John Perry said it is clear solutions are more complicated than he initially believed two years ago.

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He is hopeful that a cross-border agreement can help create a plan and fund projects but noted it has taken two years to sign a “vague” agreement. And he noted there are many players involved, with sometimes different aspirations. For example, salmon and habitat protection are key concerns of First Nations and others.

Perry, who does not have a seat at the cross-border discussions, doesn’t see progress being speedy, noting the failure of the earlier 90s effort.

And he is very concerned about recently completed high-tech imaging of the Nooksack’s depth that, married with water flow modelling, shows a 35 per cent decrease in the river’s capacity at Everson since the last major flood more than 30 years ago.

“I think it’s a it’s a very complex issue right now because we’ve lost ground since the 90s,” said Perry.


In 2020, a B.C. government-funded report carried out by consultants for the City of Abbotsford summarized modelling work and historic efforts to come up with a mitigation plan for the Nooksack River overflowing its banks.

Among the report’s potential solutions was that another two-and-a-half kilometres of dikes be built south of downtown Everson to block the river from overtopping its banks and travelling to Sumas and Abbotsford.

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However, Washington state officials have noted that would simply push flood waters farther downstream, including to Lynden, Ferndale and the Lummi Nation.

Perry said raising the dikes at Emerson is not likely to happen and attention has turned to looking at moving back dikes and opening blocked side channels to create more space for flood waters.

But that work will be expensive as it would involve buying land rights and moving dikes and armouring river banks, said Perry.

And there’s a question of who pays.

If you are working on a cross-border solution, and it costs less to do something in Washington State, should B.C. contribute to that work? asked Perry.

In B.C., decisions are complicated by the fact that Nooksack cross-border flooding, while a major issue, is not the only flood concern in B.C.

B.C. is working on a provincial flood strategy that was supposed to be delivered before the end of the year, but it has been put off until mid-2024.

Said Kruger: “We should be able to figure out by fairly objective metrics where is the critical infrastructure, the critical mass of people, the critical potential for economic damage, and find a systematic way to start tackling challenges one by one.”

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