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Lower Fraser River communities call for long-term dredging plan and federal funding

After torrential rains caused devastating flooding in the Fraser Valley and the B.C. Interior in 2021, one metre of sediment accumulated at the lower end of Michael Owen’s marina in a secondary channel of the Fraser River in Delta. Owen is pictured on April 10.

Posted on April 12, 2023

After torrential rains caused devastating flooding in the Fraser Valley and the B.C. Interior in 2021, one metre of sediment accumulated at the lower end of Michael Owen’s marina in a secondary channel of the Fraser River in Delta.

It posed a major problem for the Ladner Reach marina’s 28 floating homes in summer 2022. During the lowest tides, some houses — touching bottom because of the sediment buildup — were leaning over so much that items tumbled out of cabinets and bookcases.

The sediment buildup following the floods exacerbated an already serious buildup from previous annual deposits in the side channels of the lower river, areas that provide important access for communities and drive economic activity, said Owen.

It’s why a coalition of Lower Fraser River communities is now calling on the federal government to create a long-term dredging strategy for the river and its channels, and secure annual funding.

The coalition includes the Cities of Delta and Richmond, the Tsawwassen First Nation and the Musqueam Indian Band. The communities are asking the federal and provincial governments to work with them on a plan.

A letter sent by the communities to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier David Eby, and copied to federal and provincial ministers, highlights that the benefits of a $10 million dredging program put together in 2013 have been largely extinguished.

The letter, signed by the mayors and First Nation chiefs, points to a recent discussion paper from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority that estimated annual funding of $2.5 million would be needed to dredge local channels to make them stable and safe for navigation.

“The situation in the local channels has worsened as each annual freshet brings more sediment down the Fraser River into the side channels. Access to many of our businesses, marinas and float-home communities is only possible at high tide, and the safe movement of watercraft around the Fraser River estuary is being jeopardized,” the community leaders said in their letter.

In response to Postmedia News questions, the federal government said they’re willing to discuss the issues but didn’t say they would provide long-term funding.

Michael Owen in Richmond on April 10.

In a written response, the office of Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of employment, said a long-term solution can be reached by working together, including through “regional planning mechanisms” of Canada’s oceans protection plan. “Minister Qualtrough continues to work to reach an approach that would keep the Fraser’s secondary channels safe for those who live on the river and open for navigation,” said the federal officials.

The province didn’t respond to Postmedia’s question on a long-term management strategy to dredge the secondary channels of the Lower Fraser.

Owen said the problems caused by the increasing sediment buildup are acute. He said a local rescue boat can only come in at certain times because of sediment accumulation. Recently, the boat ran aground, and Owen was asked to send his tugboat but the tug was on dry land. The rescue boat had to wait for the tide to rise and it was lucky it was a training mission and not an emergency, he said.

Delta city manager Sean McGill added that the Steveston Harbour Authority recently reported boat-grounding incidents in Cannery Channel, and river access to certain areas around Ladner and Gunderson Slough is significantly restricted during low tide.

In the 1990s, responsibility for dredging the main navigational channels of the Fraser River was transferred from the Canadian Coast Guard to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. That left a jurisdictional vacuum with no agency specifically mandated to manage the secondary channels and no funding source, according to a background paper from the City of Delta.

The $10 million in 2013 was funded jointly by the City of Delta ($2 million), the City of Richmond ($2 million), the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority ($3 million) and the B.C. government ($3 million).

A 2012 study for the City of Delta found that economic activity in Ladner Harbour and its river channels, just a portion of the Lower Fraser’s secondary channels, annually produced 200 jobs, $6 million in direct wages, $39 million in economic output, $1.7 million in federal tax revenues, $750,000 in provincial tax revenues and $320,000 in municipal tax revenues.


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