Opinion: One year after Sumas Prairie flood, BC real estate still at risk

Nov 8 2022, 11:41 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Alistair Vigier, who is the CEO of ClearwayLaw.com, a proprietary database of legal professionals powered by a custom web interface to help the public identify and connect with appropriate legal representation.

This week marks a year since the devastating floods in British Columbia that were caused by the heaviest rainfall on record and the breach of the Sumas Dike in Abbotsford, BC.

When the dike broke, houses and farms in Abbotsford were destroyed, around 630,000 animals died, and thousands were left homeless, mostly farmers.

Five people lost their lives in mudslides in other parts of the province.

Class action lawsuits were filed against the City of Abbotsford, Fraser Valley Regional District, and the Province of British Columbia for what was said in the lawsuit to be a failure to properly act during an emergency.

Even though the damage has been assessed in the billions of dollars, it seems there has been little discussion on how to prevent future flooding, mudslides, and the destruction of BC real estate in places like Richmond, the Fraser Valley, and Abbotsford.

There are important questions to be answered, but every time I raise my climate change concerns on social media, I’m told little can be done, even though people have been talking about the flooding risk for half a century.

I can’t and won’t accept the answer that we are all doomed. If people don’t care about the warning from the United Nations secretary-general saying that the Earth is “…on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” maybe they will care about their real estate return on investment. Canadians have a majority of their net worth in real estate, so let’s talk about how climate change will affect your retirement plans.

How flooding will impact BC property prices

A report by the University of Waterloo and the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation found that flooding in the area impacts house prices in Canada by 8.2%. It stated that real estate prices would fall around 8% in flooding areas, and take around 20% longer to sell.

To give you an idea of the numbers, if you were selling your house in Abbotsford for $713,500 before a flood, once the flood occurred, you might only get $654,993 for it. This would lead to a loss of $58,507 just because of flooding in your area.

university of waterloo canada real estate flooding values impact

Flooding impact on Canadian real estate. (University of Waterloo)

According to Realtor.com, the average house in Canada takes 65 days to sell. So this means that you might need to wait 20% longer to sell your house, which would mean your house would be on the market for around 13 more days.

The most likely way that climate change will affect properties in BC will be by flooding basements. This is especially true in cities that are at sea level.

Much of Abbotsford is on a floodplain, and the City has developed a plan to try and fight flooding as best it can. But like trying to keep the ocean from destroying your sandcastle, the plan might be doomed to fail, with mother nature ultimately winning the battle.

With climate change, living far away from the Fraser River isn’t enough to keep your home safe. With high rain events (called atmospheric rivers), any city in BC not at a higher elevation could flood with improper planning.

But even with planning, some areas won’t stand a chance.

I have seen little action from levels of government. At the end of 2020, the federal government said they would consult with cities, Indigenous communities, and others on creating a plan for mitigating flooding — that they would work to identify priorities and actions. This was two years ago, but there have been no real and effective measures.

It sounds like political speak for no real plan. It sounds like a plan to make a plan. For communities like Richmond, Delta, and Abbotsford that are at high risk of flooding, there is no time to wait around.

Many cities in Canada are going to struggle with climate change, but it seems BC needs to worry most about flooding (instead of tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.). You might not care about climate change, but hopefully, you will be concerned about how climate change might affect the value of your real estate. If your area starts to flood, expect the value of your property to drop by 8% overnight.

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