AUGUST 2019 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
Chilcotin ranchers’ hope for hay crop
washed away Disaster assistance announced for region after flooding
by ANGELA ABRAHAO
WILLIAMS LAKE—An unusual amount of rainfall in early July has caused devastating flooding in the Cariboo Chilcotin, affecting Big Creek and areas just off the Chilcotin River.
A flood watch was initiated on the Chilcotin River below Big Creek and tributaries late in the afternoon of July 8 by the BC River Forecast Centre. The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) immediately activated an Emergency Operations Center for the West Chilcotin, including the Big Creek and Nemaiah Valley area. Typical rainfall in the region is 51 mm. for July. Flood waters rose up after 100 mm. of rain fell in five days, causing the Chilcotin River to swell and push water into the tributary of Big Creek, wreaking havoc as ranch lands flooded and remained underwater. Many ranchers were cut off from neighbours as roads were washed out by the once in 200-year flood event.
The threat of evacuation passed as flood waters receded but ranchers and officials in the area have begun the long and tedious process of assessing damages – a process those in the region are all too familiar with.
While damage to
residences has been minimal, residents are facing the stark reality that vital ranch lands and infrastructure, from barns
and hay storage sheds to irrigation, fencing, hayfields and stored hay, have been irreparably damaged. Crews have been working to ensure roads have been restored to the point that residents have access to main routes.
Hayfields under water Further afield from Big
Creek, along the Chilcotin River, the Chezacut Ranch has 1,300 acres of hayfields underwater. “[There’s a] whole whack of
it underwater,” says ranch manager Kevin Newberry as he points to the flooded fields. “We’ve always been able to hay the second or third week of July. We only get one crop. This is just a disaster.”
Newberry has been at the
ranch for 18 years and usually takes off 2,100 to 2,200 round bales, each weighing about 1,700 lbs., annually. Ranchers are trying to stay
positive, but coming on the heels of unprecedented wildfires two summers ago and spending the following season doing wildfire recovery on many ranches, flooding comes as a second blow to the livelihoods of many communities. No livestock loss has
occurred, though fallout from damage to hay production will have a big impact on affected ranches in the West Chilcotin. Newberry points to the stands of burnt red trees that line the hillsides.
Torrential rain and flooding just as hay was ready to be cut has left ranchers in the West Chilcotin wondering how they’re going to put up enough feed for winter. ANGELA ABRAHAO PHOTO
“We thought we were going to survive this year. ... This is getting ridiculous; it’s just carrying on,” he says, noting the road had already washed out twice this year. “Those hills over there, they used to soak up that water and now it’s coming right over the main road. It was 40 feet wide the other day.” Newberry typically
experiences an early spring freshet but fields are dry enough to hay by mid-July, he says. “You expect it in the
spring,” he says, “but you don’t expect it three different times, and this last time – you can see what it looks like. All the hay that’s laying under the water now – it’s done. It’ll be a total loss. It’s going to get ugly out there. “Way up there,” he says, pointing up river, “there is bigger hayfields and they are all underwater, too. The water, it just won’t shut off. This is the first year that I’ve been here that it just doesn’t work. We’ve had wet years, but it
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dries a piece and comes back. This year, it’s not drying.” BC Ministry of Agriculture
representatives are assessing needs of impacted producers. “Depending on what we’re hearing and seeing, multiple trips may need to be planned,” says BCMA South Cariboo and Chilcotin rep Katie Galliazzo. The CRD estimates 47
properties along the Chilcotin River have been impacted. The amount of agricultural properties affected and the cost of damages have yet to be assessed.
The CRD held a community meeting for Big Creek residents July 20, shifting focus to recovery. The BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has announced that disaster
financial assistance will be available for those who have been impacted. The assistance is available to those who were unable to obtain insurance to cover flood losses. Assistance covers 80% of each loss, with payments beginning at $1,000 to a maximum of $300,000. Those eligible have until October 15 to submit applications to Emergency Management BC. For ranchers like Newberry, timing is everything. With fields underwater and no time for a second crop, there is little silver lining in the upcoming sunny weather forecasts. “The green machines are
hooked up and ready to go, but they aren’t going anywhere.”
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