Crews Fight to Keep Services Running
Overnight on November 14 another “atmospheric river” hit the Sunshine Coast (the second in a month) with a nasty combination of torrential rains followed by high winds. On the morning of Monday, November 15, SCRD phones started ringing off the hook with reports of washouts, flooding, and property damage. Staff activated the Emergency Operations Centre at 9 am and escalated to a Level 3 emergency status before 10 am. That afternoon we formally declared a State of Emergency.
For a first hand account of staff’s response, I recommend watching our General Manager of Infrastructure Services’ report at our Nov. 18 Infrastructure meeting. (His presentation starts at 7:15.)
Chapman Creek raged at 76,000 L per second at our water supply intake. (In late summer the volume is 200 L/s.) Mud and debris blocked the water intake and staff had to shut down the water treatment plant and then clear the intake. Several times. Including in the middle of the night.
On Monday an old asbestos cement water main on Reed Road blew out. Crews had to work in water at night to try and make repairs. Repairs were made the next day but a boil water advisory was required until water quality met public health standards.
In Halfmoon Bay, Redrooffs Road washed out, taking our water main and water service with it. And in Roberts Creek, Lower Road was washed out by flooding Stephens Creek. This washout exposed the Fortis gas line and undermined a nearby power pole. Crews brought in cranes to hold up the pole and the gas line.
Other washouts included Beach Avenue and Day Road (see video) in Roberts Creek. Ocean Beach Esplanade was blocked by a slide. And, of course, Hwy 101 flooded in numerous areas, stalling traffic or reducing it to a single lane.
Six of our small sewer treatment plants also flooded, necessitating emergency pumpouts.
Closer to home, the Whittaker Creek washout from last year continued, prompting an evacuation alert for a dozen properties between the end of Ocean Beach Esplanade and Lower Road. The beachfront cabins that flooded last year were impacted even more severely, prompting an official evacuation order on Nov. 16.
Chaster Creek once again flooded the footbridge to Chaster House. Staff have not yet assessed the damage to the bridge or confirmed if there was any damage to the house from the flooding. Cliff Gilker Park was closed due to high water and fallen trees.
Oh, and as if we needed more problems with garbage pick-up, the washouts and flooded roads meant that Waste Management trucks couldn’t get through to some areas. And transit service had to be rerouted.
We all owe huge thanks to Utilities staff (some of whom slept only 8 hours out of 60 during the crisis), not to mention other SCRD staff, the folks who collaborated to operate our EOC, volunteer fire fighters, and Capilano Highways road crews. It was also a hairy few days for Fortis, BC Hydro, the RCMP, MOTI and many others.
Things could have been much worse. We suffered no deaths or severe damage compared to what happened in Merritt, Princeton, and the Fraser Valley. That said, things also could have been better. Decades of poor land use and infrastructure decisions have created a worsening stormwater problem. In particular, road maintenance has been neglected, leaving us with infrastructure that’s literally crumbling.
An integrated stormwater plan back in 2009 identified high risk areas in Roberts Creek, Elphinstone and West Howe Sound and made recommendations for action. What happened next? Nothing. The SCRD does not have authority to act, and the province has not funded ministries like MOTI and FLNRORD to do the work that’s needed.
The result is money being poured into emergencies, many of which were preventable.