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$1.7M in provincial funding for Grand Forks flood mitigation

Fish habitats, tree planting and channel excavation part of latest project
Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, at the podium, announced on Tuesday morning Grand Forks will be receiving $1.76 million through the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund for flood mitigation and restore natural environments along the river. Joining Ma was Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, left, Grand Forks Mayor Everett Baker and city councillors Christine Thompson and Deborah Lafleur. Photo Karen McKinley

Grand Forks’ recovery from the 2018 floods is getting a major boost from the province with more funding to help build both more structures and restore the natural environment.

The province is providing $1.76 million to Grand Forks for the city to implement flood mitigation in the area.

In a news conference in Grand Forks on Tuesday, Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said the funds are part of the latest cash available through the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund.

The money is earmarked for the North Ruckle Floodplain Habitat Offset Project to install 82 fish habitat structures and plant 45,000 trees and shrubs along Kettle River’s channel banks.

“This will greatly reduce the risk of natural flooding,” said Ma. “We watched with dread during those anxious days of May, 2018 and I know many of those feelings came back two months ago when the rivers spilled their banks. But thankfully, because of the teams in Grand Forks, the flood defense mechanisms made possible since 2018 have protected people, houses and untold damages from this spring’s Freshet.”

Since the floods, the province has invested more than $34 million in recovery mitigation projects in Grand Forks. This latest funding is part of a $44 million for disaster risk reduction being shared between 63 communities. This round of investment is made possible through the province’s Community Emergency Preparedness Fund.

The funding so far provided has been coming from a variety of different sources, both federal and provincial. This funding is coming from the Disaster Risk Reduction stream, which had a cap of $2 million. Since this approval, it has been expanded and future rounds will have a grant cap of $5 million.

READ MORE: More provincial money announced for climate change preparedness across B.C.

However, the province works with city’s to make sure the grant funds match the plans so they can get the best funding sources available, Ma said.

“We have to take bold steps to prepare for emergencies,” said Ma. “This new ministry, which I am proud to lead, isn’t just about disaster recovery, but also preparing for and mitigating impacts of disasters before they happen.”

Grand Forks has been living with this threat for a while, Ma added. The floods of 2018 saw the Granby and Kettle Rivers spill their banks after a week of high temperatures, then three days of rain that caused the worst flooding in 200 years. About 3,000 people had to be evacuated, with 38 rescues performed by helicopter, or boat.

However, through all of the tragedy, Ma said the community spirit of the city came through. In many cases, that effort was led by women in business, a point that she said makes her proud.

The mitigation and recovery is just as much about working with nature to prevent flooding as it is to protect human-made infrastructure. Mayor Everett Baker explained the dikes that are being built in North Ruckle are being designed to allow room for the river to spread out and move beyond the river’s normal channels, slowing the flow through the area and reducing the hydraulic pressure on the dikes protecting the downtown core.

It will also offer year-round habitat for many fish and bird species, including two species-at-risk: the Speckled Dace and the Lewis’s Woodpecker, he added.

“The offsetting areas will also provide educational opportunities for people to learn more about these endangered species,in addition to the amazing natural amenities and trails you find here in Grand Forks,” Baker said.

Before Europeans settled the area, the valley floor used to have more room for water to swell and recede in the form of floodplains and oxbows, said Graham Watt, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Flood Recovery. Engineers are looking at restoring those natural flood mitigations, including an old oxbow south of the area that will channel floodwaters and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Natural assets like wetlands and riparian forests aid in reducing risk from natural disasters such as flooding and wildfires, added Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen and Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development..

“It’s great to see the City of Grand Forks prioritizing investment into these natural assets, and our government is proud to support the city and other communities as they work to mitigate disaster risk, he said. “We’ve seen similar events that happened across the province since,” Russell said. “The community took the reins on the recovery process with the support of the provincial government, as well as the federal government.”

This funding will help Grand Forks become a leader in disaster risk reduction, Russell added.

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