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Ottawa can’t expect local government to handle cost of climate disaster alone, says B.C. mayor

The mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., says expecting local governments to shoulder the cost of infrastructure upgrades to protect their communities from flooding has been a “monumental mistake.”

Henry Braun made the comment to a Senate standing committee on agriculture and forestry as he argued for upward of $2.5 billion from senior levels of government, to bring dikes built in the 1940s up to current safety standards.

Heavy rains in November breached nine dikes in Abbotsford, flooding an area the size of Guelph, Ont., and affecting more than 1,100 farms and 2.5 million livestock across southern B.C.

Braun was joined by Jason Lum, chairman of the Fraser Valley Regional District, who says the spring thaw keeps him up at night because he worries a separate aging dike system along the Fraser River can’t handle it.

The B.C. government has made a preliminary submission to federal officials seeking about $4 billion and also earmarked $2.1 billion in its latest budget for disaster recovery across the province.

The federal government has committed $5 billion and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair has said he sees the urgency supporting those affected by floods and wildfires, however he has not provided a timeline for when the money will be disbursed.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says it is not possible for local governments to pay for flood mitigation on their own. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

“While meetings with federal and provincial government leaders have been positive, we continue to request funding and support for our long-term solutions and infrastructure needs as we expect these costs will be in the billions,” Braun told the Senate committee.

“Downloading the costs of this type of infrastructure and required maintenance to local governments was, in my opinion, a monumental mistake and is something that needs to be addressed.'”

Earlier this month, Abbotsford city staff estimated the price of flood mitigation in the Sumas Valley region would be from $209 million to nearly $2.797 billion.

While experts are hesitant to link any single weather event directly to climate change, scientists know warmer air holds more moisture — which means as B.C.’s average temperature warms due to climate change, flooding in the region will get more frequent and intense.

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