Abbotsford, B.C. issues 'do not use' water advisory for flooded Sumas Prairie

WATCH: The City of Abbotsford, B.C. issued a new 'do not use' water advisory on Wednesday for the Sumas Prairie, the eastern side of which is still under water. Its mayor, Henry Braun, explains the current status of flooding in that region and why crews are struggling to control its water main breaches.

The City of Abbotsford, B.C. has issued a new ‘do not use’ water advisory for the Sumas Prairie, about half of which is still flooded in the aftermath of record-breaking rainfall.

The eastern side of Sumas Prairie is still under seven or more feet of water, Mayor Henry Braun said Wednesday, meaning city crews are unable to assess or repair its “uncontrollable” water main breaches.

“Running water in Sumas Prairie can only be used for flushing toilets,” he said in a news conference.

“We know there are hazardous and potentially toxic materials in these flood waters, which is why we need to complete an environmental assessment of the area.”

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Water elsewhere in Abbotsford is safe to drink, but the city said the Sumas Prairie advisory is likely to be in place for several days. It’s an upgrade to the previous boil water advisory issued in the area.

Meanwhile, an elite urban search and rescue team called Canada Task Force 1 is continuing rapid damage assessments on residential homes and buildings that will allow the city to rescind evacuation orders for some properties.

“I visited that site today and I was blown away,” said Braun. “While our rapid damage assessment team has done more 1,000 assessments so far, we expect more than 2000 additional assessments to be undertaken this week.”

The city is still preparing for three atmospheric rivers forecasted by Environment Canada to hit between now and the end of the weekend.

Between 40 and 80 millimetres of rain could hit the Fraser Valley — including Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope — between Wednesday night and Friday morning, the federal department projects.

The storm will be less intense, the federal department predicts, but it could make conditions worse in parts of the province that have already been damaged by the floods of Nov. 14 and 15.

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Dike repairs are progressing well, said Braun, and the most problematic breach at the Sumas dike is now 90-per cent fixed. Another three feet of height will be added to it prior to Thursday’s storm, he added.

“The rainfall that’s coming, I think we can handle for Thursday, Friday,” he told reporters. “The next one is in one the weekend. It’s the third one I’m more concerned about.”

To help prepare, the city is asking residents who are able to clear out their local catch basins of leaves and debris, as crews are focused on flood repairs.

The Canadian Armed Forces is still sandbagging in preparation for that storm as well, said Braun, and assisting with culvert cleanup in the historic Clayburn Village area.

His primary concern remains the flooded eastern Sumas Prairie.

“That’s why we haven’t made a lot of progress since yesterday on inspecting bridges and culverts (there), is because they’re underwater and we can’t get to them, but we know the longer the water stays there the more damage there will be with the saturation of the soils.”

Since last week’s catastrophic flooding, four people have died, thousands have been evacuated, livestock have perished, and countless millions of dollars in damage have been done to critical infrastructure.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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