Freshet flooding losses could top $1.1 billion for Fraser Valley agriculture

February 17, 2017

A new study puts a steep price tag on the potential impacts of freshet flooding for agriculture in the Fraser Valley. The report – published by the Fraser Valley Regional District in partnership with the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative – evaluates the overall economic value of agricultural production in the Fraser Valley, and estimates the potential costs and losses to the sector under different flood scenarios.

The Fraser River’s annual peak flow (i.e., the freshet) typically occurs between mid-May and early July. The risk of flooding occurs when there is a large snowpack combined with sudden warm temperatures – in some cases combined with heavy spring precipitation – resulting in higher peak flows. Modeling to assess the impacts of climate change on river hydrology, indicates that the magnitude and frequency of peak flow floods on the Fraser River could increase in the coming years.

The FVRD is home to 2.4 per cent of the total land farmed in B.C., and 14 per cent of the province’s farms, but generates 38 per cent of the provincial gross annual farm receipts. It is the most intensively farmed area in Canada. The study found that almost 30,000 hectares, over 40 per cent, of the Fraser Valley’s Agricultural Land Reserve lands are vulnerable to freshet flooding.

“The economic value of agriculture in this region is over three billion dollars per year. With a major freshet flood, almost a third of the sector could be impacted, and that doesn’t include all of the non-agricultural infrastructure that would be affected,” says Jason Lum, Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District. “The FVRD has been a key supporter toward a regional approach to flood management, laying the groundwork for serious investment in flood mitigation with our partners. Prioritizing and implementing improvements to both structural and non-structural flood mitigation measures is the highest priority."

Utilizing mapped flood extents, flood losses were calculated for two flood scenarios, one with present climate conditions and one applying a future climate scenario (year 2100). A major flood event, (similar to the flood in 1894) would cause over $800 million in damage to agricultural crops, buildings and equipment. The economic impacts to FVRD communities associated with the agricultural flood losses would be $1.1 billion.

For blueberry grower, Jason Smith, putting a dollar value on agriculture in the region is an important step towards highlighting the need for action to mitigate the risks associated with flooding.

“As a grower, I’m extremely worried about the extreme weather. For perennial crops, it is not only the threat of flooding but also seepage during the growing season that kills the plants roots and makes the fields impassable for harvest" he says, adding that some of his fields that flooded in the 2012 freshet still have not fully recovered. "I am glad to see that this study has been completed and shows the economic value of agriculture in the FVRD. This was a necessary step so others outside of the farming community realize how important agriculture is in our area. Hopefully this study will get some of the necessary mitigation projects started as soon as possible and that we as farmers never have to deal with the worst case scenario."

While implementing upgrades to critical dikes is identified as a high priority for flood protection, the report suggests that there is no single solution to increasing agriculture’s resilience to flooding in the Fraser Valley; rather, several measures will need to be introduced over time. The report also includes recommendations for planning and actions that can be undertaken by individual producers, sector groups and other partners to assist the agriculture sector to be prepared, and to reduce losses and to speed recovery in the case of a flood.

This report is one of the actions identified in the Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategies to better understand potential impacts of climate change to changing freshet flood risk in the Fraser Valley. Funding for this study is part of a $300,000 investment in the implementation of the Fraser Valley Regional Adaptation Strategy by the federal and provincial governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

The BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative was established by the BC Agriculture Council in 2008, and is led by an advisory committee of agricultural producers, food processors and representatives from various government agencies. The Initiative has been supported by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC with funding provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2.

Read the summary report [PDF - 1.5 MB] or visit the Climate Action Initiative for the full report and more information.