Vulnerabilities along border exposed as US military strives to repair dike
In a breach in the Saar Creek dike, surrounded by flooded Washington state farmland just south of the Canadian border, an excavator puts small boulders back in place, then covers them with dirt and gravel. Monday morning, the water was streaming. By the afternoon, this flow had been stopped and the dike slowly began to rise to its original height.
It was a race to consolidate the defenses before the rains started again.
At this particular location, less than two miles from British Columbia, the US Army Corps of Engineers said they expected to complete their work on Monday.
But as another atmospheric river slams into the flood-affected region, more nearby dike breaches will not be repaired until the heavy rains return, amplifying vulnerabilities not only here but in B.C. where the flooding around Abbotsford is due in part to the waters flowing in the northern United States
One of the worst remaining breaches is at Timon Levee, along the Nooksack, Washington state’s unchecked river that flowed onto its banks two weeks ago, sending a great pulse of water to the Canada. At Timon, the river breached the dike more than 30 meters long and nearly 10 meters deep. The force of the water also dug a deep hole outside the fault.
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After a week of repair work, this scour hole has not yet been filled. Only after this is done, “can we then rebuild the dike,” said Keith Russia, a civil engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers. But rather than work on Monday, the teams had to deal with new floods which flooded the site.
The river engulfed rocks meant to control its course, said John Perry, mayor of nearby Everson, Wash. With Everson Town Hall still too damaged to be used for a meeting on Monday, he encountered a reporter inside the local police station, sitting next to a handcuffed bench. He pulled out his phone to show video of the Nooksack flooding two weeks ago, which caused water to flow through the streets of Everson in such a torrent that a van drove past.
“It’s the water that goes to Abbotsford,” he said. “I know Abbotsford isn’t really happy with us.”
Everson is located 26 meters above sea level. Sumas, Wash., Is 13. Sumas Prairie, the most heavily flooded area near Abbotsford, is one meter above sea level. So when the Nooksack and other rivers overflow at Washington, their waters are moving north.
Mr Perry sees the guilt on all sides, also pointing to the Canadian decision to drain Sumas Lake nearly a century ago, creating an agricultural plain that has partially filled in recent weeks. “You can’t control Mother Nature,” Mr. Perry said.
But there is also frustration on the US side that it has not done more to prepare for the heavy rains, especially after flooding in the border town of Sumas last year.
Since then, “we haven’t done anything,” Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen said on Monday. He called for a new approach that brings people together on both sides of the border. “We have to do something because doing nothing doesn’t work.”
This is because the spot where the Nooksack spilled by Everson was not designed with a dike – it was a natural spillway – and no other work has been done in the past two weeks. to strengthen its banks. Mr Perry also fears emergency dike repairs may not have had time to consolidate before more rain, leaving them more vulnerable than in the past.
So, as the region contemplates another deluge, it does so with compromised defenses and an even greater sense of uncertainty as to what the fresh rains might bring. Not only have the repeated series of floods raised deep concern about what might happen, but they have also altered the river’s flows and sediments, making it difficult to predict its reaction to a new round of heavy rainfall. .
What happens next “It all depends on the weather and the reaction of the river,” said Perry. “Because everything has changed since that last flood. “
What has also changed, here and elsewhere, is the human capacity to take more losses. In the city of Sumas, more than 315 homes and 30 businesses were flooded two weeks ago. On Monday morning, the city sounded its flood siren again as water levels rose rapidly. As of early afternoon, an accurate damage tally had yet to be taken, but the new flooding affected at least dozens of homes and businesses, Christensen said.
The owners of some of these newly flooded homes had already started to make repairs before the water started to rise again. Among them were Morgan Hance and Matt Roller, who drove a van through the water up to their calves to sit for a moment in the driveway of their home, where they had already removed the soggy drywall in the hope to start repairs.
Two weeks ago, the waters rose so high that they reached the wheel of Ms. Hance’s jeep. It is now a write-off. This time, they think the house stayed dry – but the forecast of more rain was baffling.
“We can’t live there at the moment. If it happens, it happens, ”Ms. Hance said. “We can’t do anything at this point. “
Others have started to act. A family doctor who has lived in Sumas for two decades has decided to leave the city, Mr Christensen said. “They don’t want to play with it anymore,” he said.
“It’s devastating for the families and businesses that have gone through all of this work to get it ready – and only to be affected by this second wave less than two weeks later. It’s hard. There is a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety and fear, ”Mr. Christensen said.
People are starting to ask, “Why should I even rebuild?” ” he said.
Yet those who repair the dikes “did what they could,” he said.
On Monday, that also meant trying to limit the damage to nature caused by the flooding.
As the excavator set up rocks at Saar Creek, Jess Jordan waded through the muddy waters outside the dike and used her hands to chase the now trapped salmon outside the creek.
“We take them out so they don’t get stranded,” he said, as he used a pine branch to sweep the waters in search of fish. The flooding took place in the middle of the salmon run.
As the sun briefly emerged from the cloud at noon Monday, Mr. Jordan, the Army Corps of Engineers flood manager for the Nooksack Basin in Whatcom County, let out a cry of excitement. In his hands, a muddy rainbow collapsed. Mr. Jordan passed him past the muddy flood debris and onto the dike, where he dropped him into the creek.
“It’s number seven,” he said, and returned to work.
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