B.C. Floods: Government was warned a decade ago about a critical staffing shortage at the River Forecast Centre

The warning was highlighted in a new investigation published Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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The BC government was warned more than a decade ago that a critical staffing shortage at its River Forecast Centre could put the public at risk by not getting flood information in time to get out of harm’s way.

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The warning is contained in a 2010 report written by Jim Mattison , a former senior-ranking member of the provincial Ministry of Environment, and highlighted in a new investigation published Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Postmedia has sent a request for a response to this report to the B.C. government.

The Mattision report said staffing at the centre needed to more than double to a minimum of 12 employees from 5.5 employees if the centre was to provide effective critical warnings to vulnerable communities threatened by floods.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said the River Forecast Centre’s employee levels remain unchanged to this day.

In a statement Wednesday, CCPA resource policy analyst Ben Parfitt said that the river centre’s late warnings in the days leading up to catastrophic floods last month in Abbotsford, Merritt, Princeton and First Nations communities is under increasing scrutiny.

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“There are still only five employees working directly on river forecasting to this day, managed by one other person who also has responsibility for flood safety,” said Parfitt, in a statement, adding those staffing levels need to be increased immediately.

“The earlier and more accurate those warnings are, the more effectively coordinated provincial and local responses can be as rivers approach flood stage.”

Mattison’s report noted that in Alberta, which is smaller than B.C., the number of people working at its Edmonton-based river forecast centre was 24.

Mattison said that hiring seven more staff “is the bare minimum needed to meet the criteria of adequate and timely forecasts in a time of changing climate and rapid growth.”

He also pointed out that more than doubling the centre’s staff was critical given climate change.

“Rain intensities will be higher and durations will be longer,” Mattison warned. “Community flood protection will require serious review with more floodplain planning, better flood protection works and flood proofing requirements behind dikes.”

More to come…

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