THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “There’s that pit in your stomach where you’re thinking, ‘Is this the moment where I get to say I told you so?’ ” said Tamsin Lyle, an engineer and one of several experts who had warned of flood risks in the Lower Mainland, when she was interviewed on the Fifth Estate (November 2021)
Note to Reader:
Tamsin Lyle is a well-known thought leader on flood management in Canada. She comes to this position having invested her entire academic and professional careers in the exploration of various aspects of flood management. She has genuine enthusiasm for the subject, which is evident in her many publications (peer-reviewed and for public communication) and presentations. She is particularly interested in exploring the nexus of science, engineering, policy and planning – disciplines that often work apart or in series in flood projects when best practice suggest they should work together.
Tamsin Lyle does not hesitate to speak out. She was featured in a CBC Fifth Estate documentary in November 2021 two weeks after an ‘atmospheric river’ drenched British Columbia and led to floods and mudslides. The storm that the Fraser Valley experienced over the weekend of November 13-14, 2021 was one for the record books.
“It was definitely cathartic to speak out to the Fifth Estate crew this past weekend. There is no excuse for the poor choices that were made,” posted Tamsin Lyle on Twitter on November 26, 2021. Below, the blog posted by Tamsin on LinkedIn is reproduced verbatim. As well, it is supplemented with several other resources, notably a link to the Fifth Estate story, along with quotable quotes.
Journalists’ Guide to BC Flood Reports that No One Read….
“….we’re having a lot of I told you so moments (as are our flood nerd colleagues). This week, we’re also fielding a lot of calls from journalists who want to tell the story of all that government knew, but chose not to act on,” wrote Tamsin Lyle in her blog posted on LinkedIn on November 22, 2021.
“If you’ve worked with us in the past, you also know that we are fans of collaboration and efficiency. So in hopes of getting our wonderful media the information they need quickly (and as a co-benefit, freeing up our inboxes) here’s the curated primer to to the “shelf of reports” that no one read in 4 parts:
- The things we knew about where water would be, how the dikes would fail, and what this would mean. (mostly technical reports)
- How the heck did we get here? (mostly governance type reports)
- This is going to get worse (climate change and land cover change), and there’s lots at risk.
- We can do this better. (all the mitigation tools we don’t use).”
“This is a preliminary list, which we will keep editing and growing as time allows.”
Part 1: Flood hazard and risk and the fallibility of dikes
“The Lower Mainland Dike Assessment (2015) nicely outlines the fragility of all the dikes in the Lower Fraser Valley.”
“This report on structural flood management approaches, authored by one of BC’s many ex-Inspectors’ of Dikes, provides a great overview of the many under resourced authorities that are charged with maintaining dikes in the province.”
“Risk Assessment of Orphan Dikes this report, written with our colleagues at KWL, outlines the state of the 101+ orphan dikes (that is dikes that have no one looking after them), and all the people and things we care about that would be affected when they fail.”
“A summary of the Mass Carcass Plan, yes, that’s right, a mass carcass plan. 15 or so years ago, the BC Ministry of Agriculture had a plan to manage the expected 10s of thousands of dead livestock. The link is to a presentation given in 2013.”
Part 2: How the heck did we get here
“Flood Risk Governance Review for the Province of BC this report outlines the “polycentric chaos” that is flood governance in the province. It relies on input from this report, which lays out how things used to be. Note that these reports both provide recommendations on how we can do this better!”
“We knew there are atmospheric rivers and we’ve known for a long time that this is going to be a big concern for winter flooding in BC and as someone who pays attention to this – you can (could) see it coming,” said Tamsin Lyle, speaking on CBC’s The Fifth Estate.
“I think there’s a lot of different people that have to take ownership of the problem…when we are looking at this kind of scale. I think the province from about 20 years ago has a lot to answer for in terms of downloading the responsibility from the province – who had the better capacity to look at the problem at scale – to local governments who don’t have the capacity and don’t have the expertise.”
“We’ve known about these problems- in fact, one of my colleagues said the Sumas area is one of the most studied flood problems in all of Canada. And yet we still didn’t do anything better.”
“For the last 20 to 30 years we’ve been presenting this information, providing updates on what we think it would cost if there was a large flood in the Fraser Valley or elsewhere in the country or in the province. But for the most part that falls on deaf ears until there’s actually an event,” she told Global News.
She has advised the B.C. government to change its flood management “paradigm” and create a clear and consistent authority structure that spells out who is responsible for what. “In order to enable this big change, we also need to change how we govern the problem, to manage the fact that it is a classic, wicked and systemic problem. British Columbia’s approach to flood management is a reflection of the “1950s era of big engineering,” Lyle explained.
To Learn More:
Read Province was warned breached B.C. dike ‘substandard’ years before it failed – from the CBC Fifth Estate.
Read Years of warnings about poor flood plans ignored prior to B.C. floods – from Global News.
Part 3: This is going to get worse
“The term Atmospheric River, and its connection to floods and climate change is well documented.”
“This report, completed as part of the BC Flood Investigation series, ties floods, atmospheric rivers and climate change together. See the Introduction and Section 3. It references some of the peer-reviewed science out there, like this paper, which states there will be “35% in the number of landfalling AR days between the last 20 years of the twentieth and 21st centuries.”
To Learn More:
Read Batten down the hatches, the worst is yet to come, an opinion piece by Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun columnist on November 17, 2021. “Despite unfolding disasters, we seem little more prepared than if Elon Musk suddenly offered free flights to the moon leaving tomorrow,” is her tag-line.
“So why are we so woefully unprepared? And why are we making things worse by building homes and critical infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants on floodplains? Although Vancouver politicians aspire to making it one of the world’s greenest cities, it seems on track to become one of the bluest, with close to 250,000 people living within one metre of sea level,” observed Daphne Bramham.
Part 4: We can do this better
“Sendai Framework this is the international blueprint for disaster risk reduction. BC and Canada are both signatories.”
“Non-Structural Flood Mitigation Resource Guide is a hot-off-the-presses report we just wrote with our colleagues from SHIFT Collaborative and EcoPlan International that provides ideas, examples, and next steps for local governments in BC to mitigate flood risk (without dikes!). Kudos to the Regional District of Central Okanagan for creating the project.”
“International Guidance on Natural and Nature-Based Features for Flood Risk Management is one of the growing library of works that recognises that nature does this best. Here’s another one from the Canadian Standards Association.”
“The BC Flood Strategy Discussion Paper is a great piece of work developed by extraordinarily hardworking provincial staff that shifts the paradigm on flood management in the Province. But, it’s a discussion paper….”
Fraser Valley flooding / Sumas looking east on 21 November 2021. PHOTO CREDIT: Ebbwater Consulting Inc. image.