More potentially fatal landslides and severe flooding ahead unless BC government enacts major reforms, experts warn

June 1, 2022

VANCOUVER — Several engineers and geoscientists say some of the worst flooding and landslides in BC last November were in valleys with land disturbances related to aging logging roads, logging cut-blocks and wildfires, and they say the BC government must take responsibility for fixing such problems. 

The experts, whose views are contained in new research released today by the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, include a former head of BC’s River Forecast Centre, which assesses and warns the public about flood risks, a university professor who studies how logging activities and wildfires can increase the frequency of floods, and engineers and geoscientists who have worked directly or under contract to the provincial Ministry of Forests. 

“The flood regime in BC is super-sensitive to disturbances of any kind,” warns Younes Alila, a hydrological engineer and professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of BC. “This includes logging activities, wildfires and climate change, which can have long-lasting consequences that increase the severity and frequency of floods. British Columbians are going to be in for a hell of a ride for decades to come. Government must act now.” 

Professional engineer Calvin VanBuskirk notes that last year’s lethal landslide on November 15, that killed five people on the Duffey Lake Road, was both “foreseeable and preventable” and triggered by an old, improperly deactivated logging road that failed. 

The experts recommend 11 specific policy changes including: 

  • Incorporating information on wildfires, logging and road-building into the provincial River Forecast Centre’s flood-forecasting models to increase their effectiveness.
  • Better incorporation of rain-on-snow data into River Forecast Centre models to enhance early warning of pending floods. (Rain on snow was a significant contributor to the severity of flooding last November in Merritt).
  • Doubling River Forecast Centre staff as recommended to government 12 years ago.
  • Requiring government to conduct assessments of how logging and logging roads may alter hydrological regimes and elevate flood risks before such activities are permitted.
  • Limiting the amount of logging and road-building that may happen in watersheds, especially watersheds near vulnerable communities on floodplains.
  • Requiring BC’s Chief Forester to incorporate knowledge of the long-term impacts that logging, logging roads and wildfires have on the hydrology of watersheds into critical “allowable annual cut” decisions, which limit the amount companies may log each year.
  • Requiring the provincial government to consider all industrial activities in a watershed and their “cumulative impacts” before new industrial activities can proceed.
  • Requiring all proposed logging roads and logging cut blocks to be reviewed and approved by Ministry of Forests officials before developments occur.
  • Completing a rapid assessment of the most at-risk logging roads in the province.
  • Increasing inspections of aging and vulnerable infrastructure, in particular bridges and culverts that could fail.
  • Creating a stand-alone fund from increased levies collected from logging companies and use the funding to pay for watershed restoration activities, including decommissioning logging roads that have been abandoned by the industry and are a looming liability. 

“The provincial government needs to listen to what these experts are saying. There are things clearly in the province’s control that could reduce the prospect for devastating floods and provide vulnerable communities with ample warning of troubles that lie ahead.,” says Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the CCPA and author of the reports. 

“Now, with the added wrinkle of climate change, we need such policy changes more than ever,” he adds. 

For more information and to arrange interviews please contact Jean Kavanagh at 604-802-5729, [email protected].