Vulnerabilities exposed at border as US forces work to repair levies

Traffic navigates a flooded highway leading to Sumas, Washington, on November 29.Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

In a gap in the Saar Creek levee, flooded Washington state fields south of the Canadian border, an excavator flips small stones into place, then covers them with dirt and gravel. The water was flowing on Monday morning. By noon, that flow had stopped and the levee was slowly rising back to its original height.

It was a race to shore up the defense before the rain started again.

At this particular location, less than three kilometers from British Columbia, the US Army Corps of Engineers said it expected to complete its work on Monday. Several other cracks have also been repaired.

But as yet another atmospheric river descends in a flood-stricken area, at least one large levee breach will be fixed nearby before the return of heavy rains, exacerbating vulnerabilities not only here but in British Columbia, where Abbotsford’s There is a flood all around. the portion of water that flows north from the US

An excavator repairs the Saar Creek levee in Washington, less than three kilometers from the Canadian border.globe and mail

Among the worst remaining breaches is in the Timon Levy along Nooksack, the impassable Washington State River flowing on its banks two weeks ago, sending a huge pulse of water into Canada. In Timon, the river dug a trench in the levee, more than 30 meters long and about 10 meters deep. The force of the water also made a deep hole on the outside of the brake.

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Even after a week of repair work, that pit could not be filled. The only time it’s done is, “Can we build the Levy,” said Keith Russian, a civil engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers. But instead of working on Monday, workers had to deal with fresh floods that inundated the construction site.

The river has swallowed rock with the intention of controlling its course, said John Perry, the mayor of nearby Everson, Wash. On Monday, with Everson City Hall still too damaged to be used for a meeting, he met a reporter inside the local police station, sitting near a bench equipped with handcuffs. He pulled out his phone to show him a video of the Nooksack floods two weeks earlier, in which water was pouring down the streets of Everson so much that a pickup truck overtook it.

“That’s the water that goes to Abbotsford,” he said. “I know Abbotsford isn’t really happy with us.”

The US Army Corps of Engineers attempts to build a dam to prevent additional flooding on Sumas Prairie in Nooksack, Washington.Nathan Vanderklip/The Globe and Mail

Everson is situated at an altitude of 26 meters above sea level. Sumas, Wash., is at 13. Sumas Prairie, the most flooded area near Abbotsford, sits one meter above sea level. So when the Nook and other rivers flow into Washington, their water moves north.

Mr Perry sees guilty everywhere, also pointing to Canada’s decision to drain Sumas Lake nearly a century ago, creating an agricultural lowland that has been partially replenished in recent weeks. “You can’t control Mother Nature,” said Mr. Perry.

But the US is also disappointed that nothing more was done to prepare for heavy rains, especially after floods in the border town of Sumas last year.

Since then, “we have done nothing,” Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen said on Monday. He called for a new approach that would bring people from both sides of the border together. “We have to do something because doing nothing is not working.”

Indeed, the place where Nooksack Everson stretched through was not designed with a levee – intended as a natural spillway – and in the past two weeks no further work was done to fortify its banks. has gone. Mr Perry is also concerned that emergency leave repairs will not have time to consolidate before more rain, making them more vulnerable than they were before.

So as the region contemplates a new deluge, the deal is doing so with defence, and there is an even greater sense of uncertainty about what fresh rains could bring. The repeated floods have not only raised deep concerns about what might have happened, they have changed river flows and sediments, making it difficult to predict when it will be in a new period of heavy rainfall. How will you react?

What happens next “everything depends on the weather and how the river reacts,” Mr Perry said. “Because everything has changed since this last flood.”

Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen stands in his hometown, which was hit by new floods on November 29.globe and mail

What has changed here and elsewhere is the human capacity to take more damage. In the city of Sumas, more than 315 homes and 30 businesses were flooded two weeks ago. The city again sounded the flood siren on Monday morning, with the water level rising rapidly. Mr Christensen said that as of noon, an accurate damage assessment was yet to be completed, but fresh flooding affected at least dozens of homes and businesses.

The owners of some of those newly flooded homes began repairs before the waters rose once again. Among them were Morgan Haines and Matt Roller, who sat for a moment on the driveway of their home to drive a pickup through calf-deep water, where they had stripped the already wet drywall in hopes of starting repairs.

Two weeks ago, the water rose so much that they reached the steering wheel of Ms. Hans’s Jeep. This is now a write-off. This time around, he believes the house remained dry – but the forecast for more rain was disappointing.

“We just can’t live in it. If it happens, it happens,” said Ms. Hans. “There’s nothing we can do at this point.”

Others have started taking action. A family doctor who has lived in Sumas for two decades has decided to leave the city, Christensen said. “They don’t want to mess with it anymore,” he said.

“It’s devastating for the families and businesses that did all that work to prepare it – and then in less than two weeks it was hit by this second wave. It’s tough. There’s a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety.” And there is fear,” said Mr. Christensen.

People are starting to wonder: “Why should I even rebuild?” he said.

Still, the dykes repairers “done what they could,” he said.

A man pumps water to the other side of a levee after a flood near Everson, Washington.Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

On Monday it also meant trying to limit the damage done to the natural world by the floods.

As the excavator shoveled rocks into Saar Creek, Jess Jordan jumped into the muddy waters outside the levee and used his hands to chase the salmon now trapped outside the creek.

“We are taking them out so that they don’t get trapped,” he said, as he used a pine tuff to clear the water for the fish. There is a flood in the middle of the salmon run.

As the sun briefly emerged from the cloud on Monday afternoon, Mr. Jordan, the Army Corps of Engineers flood lead for the Nooksack Basin in Whatcom County, raised an excited shout. In his hands, a sloppy steelhead flopped about. Mr Jordan drove it over the muddy rubble of the flood and over the levee, where he dropped it into the creek.

“It’s number seven,” he said, and returned to work.

The flooding in Abbotsford, BC came partly from water moving north from Washington state. Along with new rainfall forecasts, engineers in the US side of the border are working to repair broken dams. Reporter Nathan Vanderklip visited the site of a levee repair, just three kilometers from the border with Canada.

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