NOVEMBER 15, 2023
Flood Recovery | Update
In November 2021, the Coldwater River water levels rose 2.5 times the previously predicted engineering estimates in just a matter of hours due to an unprecedented atmospheric river. The extreme water flows (320 cubic meters per second) destroyed flood warning systems, overcame the existing dike infrastructure (designed for 150 CMS), and flooded about 640 properties in the lower-lying areas of the city. While many residents along the river bank had to be evacuated in the early morning hours of November 15, the failure of the water and sewer systems caused the entire community of more than 7,000 people to be evacuated by mid-morning. The flood left damage amounting to about $150 million, and mud as deep as 5 feet in some areas. The flood led to the removal of 300,000 tonnes of mud and 100,000 tonnes of debris, which is nearly a billion pounds. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to almost 60,000 elephants.
Within weeks, the community bound together and demonstrated its resiliency, as 90% of the population returned home (including the owners of 365 flood-impacted properties) embarking on the long task of rebuilding their lives. Two years later, while much progress has been made, the community still has not completely recovered. There remain 30 to 40 single-family homes or apartments that have not been rebuilt. The Red Cross is still providing support to 23 households. And the City has not been able to implement its full Flood Mitigation Plan due to lack of funding.
The road to recovery is a long and complicated one that requires engineering assessments, permits and approvals, mired by gaining funding or dealing with insurance.
To date, much recovery work has been completed. Most of the flood-damaged roads and parks have been repaired. Many homeowners have rebuilt. Dozens of other residents have been able to take advantage of the City’s Transitional Housing Program, thanks to funding from the Province of BC. (A full list of recovery projects can be found on the City’s Flood webpage).
While the City of Merritt has been quite fortunate, receiving repeated financial support from the Province of BC, much more needs to be done. In terms of infrastructure, the City’s Middlesboro Bridge on Voght Street is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2024 thanks to $9.6 million in funding from the Province in BC. In addition, portions of dike (at the sewage treatment plant and another upstream at the Claybanks RV Park) are also set to be rebuilt with $4 million in funding from the Province of BC. However, the City has only received a fraction of the required $109 million necessary to complete its Flood Mitigation Plan to protect the community from a similar disaster.
One challenge for example is that the City does not have right-of-way or own the land under the proposed dike path. The City has identified 32 properties for full or partial buyouts to accommodate the proposed dike. The City is lobbying for government funding to buy these lands at an equitable sum.
The City is also lobbying the federal government and Infrastructure Canada for funding for the dike but as of this time, no further funding has been promised.
Some residents are also still suffering with the repercussions of this disaster. Some properties were uninsured or underinsured. While this event was eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance, some residents felt that the provided funds were inadequate to cover their losses.
Another challenge for some residents who are rebuilding is that meeting BC’s building code is significantly more challenging for certain properties that are now in a new flood zone, encompassing 1274 properties, whereas previously the flood zone only encompassed about 130 properties.
While the majority of the community has recovered, demonstrating their resiliency and embracing the oasis that is Merritt, it is important to acknowledge that scars remain and some property owners have not been able to recover fully.
“The once-in-a-century flooding event forced some Merritt residents to rebuild or start with barely anything. City staff and crews have been working tirelessly on recovery efforts ever since. I am pleased to say that a lot of work has been done, but the efforts are ongoing. With the second flood anniversary approaching, it is clear that we have invested in the recovery. Still, we need to invest in increasing the resilience of our community to future natural disasters.” — Councillor Manuel Olguin
“As a property owner in Collettville, I was personally affected by the flood. While my losses were not as extreme as some, the flood created tens of thousands of dollars in damage to my property. I share the shock and horror of many residents from that tragic day. Committed to the community, I seek to help build a better tomorrow.” — Councillor Paul Petroczi
“I am proud to witness the resiliency of this community. Almost everyone has returned and is working to make the City of Merritt a great place to live. While I might still witness a few scars, much of what was destroyed is being rebuilt and is looking better than ever. We still have a long ways to go as we rebuild our Middlesboro bridge and seek the funding to replace our entire dike system. But we are all working hard and celebrate our successes in recovery to date. We look forward to the day that recovery is a distant memory and we can again embrace the tranquil, idealic life of Merritt.” — Mayor Michael Goetz