Frank Bucholtz

COLUMN: Long history of flooding in low-lying areas of Surrey

Cause has usually been a combination of human, natural factors

The heavy rains of Sunday and Monday caught many people by surprise. While residents of Surrey, White Rock and Delta are used to plenty of rain in the fall and winter months, a very large amount fell in a relatively short time – about 150 mm or more (six inches) in many places.

This extra-heavy rainfall has occurred here many times over the decades. There have been some very notable floods in the past 150 years, and usually they have been due to a combination of natural and human factors.

White Rock experienced heavy flooding in June, 1999, when ocean water came through the walkway below the railway tracks in the West Beach area. Damage was severe.

Probably the worst recent occurrence in Surrey was in December, 1982, when large areas of farmland adjacent to Mud Bay were completely inundated with flood waters. This was due to heavy rain, but also to a diking system that had not been sufficiently strengthened.

The heavy rain and dikes challenged the area, but the most significant factors were high tides (sometimes called the king tide) and strong winds. The combination of the three left much of the land west of King George Boulevard under water for some time.

Unfortunately, salt water does significant damage to farmland, and a government response was required. This led to a strengthening of dikes along both the Nicomekl and Serpentine Rivers, and there has not been a repeat since that time.

Flooding in low-lying areas of Surrey has been a problem for a long time. In pre-settlement days, water poured off the heavily-forested hills and would often remain for weeks on flat lands adjacent to the Nicomekl, Serpentine and Little Campbell Rivers, and major tributaries such as Bear Creek and Latimer Creek.

Prior to the establishment of dams and flood gates on the Serpentine and Nicomekl Rivers (both are adjacent to King George Boulevard) in 1912, the sea water at high tide would move far upstream. This had not been a particular issue before farmers settled on the land, but it became a significant problem afterwards.

Delta and Surrey pioneer John Oliver, who later went on to become premier of B.C., farmed adjacent to Mud Bay in East Delta (112 Street’s original name is Oliver Road). He often lay awake at night trying to figure out how he could better utilize his land. He came up with a number of ideas, such as flood boxes and improved dikes.

In more recent times, Surrey invested heavily in a drainage and pumping system on the upper Serpentine River near Fry’s Corner (176 Street and Fraser Highway), where flooding had long been a problem. Development on higher ground in Guildford and Fleetwood, particularly from roofs and pavement, caused the rain water to come flooding down into the valley much more quickly, and a major solution was needed. Since that system went into effect about 20 years ago, more land in that area has been put under cultivation.

In earlier times, there was widespread flooding in the areas of Surrey adjacent to the Fraser River during the 1948 flood that devastated much of the Fraser Valley. Port Mann, where the CN’s main west coast railway yards were and are located, was hard-hit, as were South Westminster and Bridgeview adjacent to the Pattullo Bridge.

In January, 1935, there was significant flooding after heavy snow and frozen ground gave way to several days of rain.

Between the melting snow and the steady rain, there was soon many feet of water in low-lying areas.

Wet weather is a fact of life when you live on the Pacific coast, and at times the effects can be quite dramatic.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for the Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca. Email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

B.C. Floods 2021ColumnSevere weather