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Looking east along Highway 1 during a flooding event in the Sumas Prairie region (November 16, 2021). Photo: BC Hydro

Evacuations across the US-Canada border raise concerns in Sumas

SUMAS, Wash. — About 7:30pm yesterday, November 16th, an emergency evacuation order was issued for residents of Sumas Prairie in Canada, a low-lying area northeast of the US town of Sumas. The order stated, “Conditions within the Sumas Prairie within the last hour have escalated and pose a significant risk to life due to the imminent failure of the Barrowtown Pump Station.”

Approximate location of Sumas Prairie region

The area was experiencing flooding as Nooksack River flood waters continued flowing northward into Canada after flooding Whatcom County cities of Everson, Nooksack, Lynden and Sumas.

Sumas Prairie is located on ground that once was Sumas Lake. The lake began being drained by pumps for flood control and the land converted to farmland in the early 1920s. If any of the pumps fail, according to Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, water from the Fraser River would quickly fill the area with 10-feet of water. Sandbagging around the pump station was being done to prevent flood waters from reaching the pump station’s electronics and machinery.

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There was a less-urgent evacuation warning issued earlier in the day and some people had remained.

Everson Mayor John Perry provided a statement in response to public concern as to whether residents south of the border needed to be concerned as a result of the evacuation order. Sumas officials echoed the statement.

Multiple agencies have looked at the situation in Abbotsford and run analysis of potential impacts and here is the analysis:

The West Sumas Prairie (where the overflow at the border goes to) is gravity-drained by the Sumas River and that is what is helping to lower the water levels in Sumas and Abbottsford.

If the dam fails, the East Sumas Prairie, which is the old Sumas Lake, will fill up until it gets to the level of the dike along the Vedder Canal which is 11 m and then will spill over a long section of dike back to the Fraser, likely not allowing the water level to get much higher (and the Fraser is receding). It looks like most of town would not be impacted, just the northeast fringes. And it will take awhile (days) for the Fraser to fill in all this storage so Sumas would have time to evacuate if the dam does fail.

This is the most current information we have on any potential impacts to Sumas. No impacts would be possible to Everson and Nooksack and any felt in Sumas would be minor compared to what we all just got over the past 24 hours. There is no need for evacuations at this point and their will be plenty of warning if it is needed in the upcoming days.

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Everson Mayor John Perry (November 16, 2021)

Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen issued an update just after midnite this morning.

I have been monitoring the water level on the east end of town close to the border the last 3 hours. It has been consistently dropping during that time frame. I wanted to share that information for 2 reasons. I saw other posts saying that the water levels were already rising which I am not seeing right now. The other reason I’m sharing this is so that people that are choosing to evacuate will know that they can slow down and do it safely. My concern is that we are hearing of people panicking and using tractors and heavy equipment to get people from their homes in the dark, at night which poses a very high safety risk. Life safety needs to be our main priority. That is one of the reasons why I did not want to make evacuations mandatory. So, I’m asking everyone to please be calm, slow down and be safe out there.

As of right now, everything is still working in Canada.

Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen (November 17, 2021)

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