Flooding and sea level rise: What you should know about Squamish’s management plan

Are we at risk?

Located at the tip of Howe Sound and the confluence of five rivers with mountainous watersheds, much of Squamish is exposed to some degree of flood hazard.

Flooding is not new for our oceanside community. Since western settlement first began in the Squamish Valley, there have been dozens of damaging floods from the Pacific Ocean and all five rivers, some of which were so damaging that settlers at the time had no choice but to pack up and leave.

In the 1970s and 1980s there was a big push to increase diking along the rivers which led to a reduction in the frequency of flooding. The  largest flood on record was in 2003 which led to evacuation, private property damage and B.C. rail line damage. In 2004, the province delegated floodplain management to local governments.

What about climate change?

Climate change is expected to increase the risk of flooding and sea level rise due to warmer ocean temperatures and ice melt. The provincial government has recommended that local governments begin planning for sea level rise of one metre by the year 2100 and two metres by the year 2200, which could completely reshape our coastal community. Recognizing the need to improve the reliability of the existing dikes and flood management policy in order to accommodate sea level rise, the District launched a multi-year project in 2014 to upgrade its original Flood Hazard Management Plan. The new Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan was adopted in 2017.

The Squamish-born approach to reducing the risk of floods

The District’s Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan (IFHMP) is a comprehensive flood management strategy with over 100 specific tools designed to manage flood risk in Squamish and guide community development over the next development cycle. The plan weaves together elements of land use planning, structural protection, river management, public education and emergency planning and will be utilized for capital and community planning for the next five to ten years. The project has broken new ground in British Columbia in terms of flood analysis and policy development, and is considered one of the most robust flood management plans in the province. The plan policies have culminated in the development of a new Official Community Plan Hazard Policy, a new Development Permit Area for Protection of Development from Flood-Related Hazards, and a new Floodplain Bylaw. A detailed and prioritized capital plan lays out long-term priorities for improving the District’s flood protection systems. The IFHMP provides a foundation upon which Squamish can build and grow for the next decade and beyond. Adopting a higher standard of protection also sets the stage for future funding opportunities.

Plan Highlights

  • Improved dike protection to reduce flood probability
  • Construction of a new sea dike to prepare for sea-level rise
  • Designation of ‘secondary floodways’ – dike-protected areas that would be critical for passing  water in the event of a flood
  • Accommodating risk by raising new development above the flood construction level
  • Limited development in the highest hazard areas
  • Increased development in low or no risk areas
  • Multi-decade implementation to the year 2100

Four main strategies of the Plan

  • Protect: Protect our community to minimize the risk of flooding in developed areas.
  • Accommodate: Accommodate hazards by adapting land use and development to reduce exposure to flooding.
  • Avoid: Avoiding development in high-risk areas.
  • Retreat: Move vulnerable development and infrastructure out of the floodplain as they reach the end of their lifespan. 

Fast Facts

  • The IFHMP plan began in spring 2014 and was adopted by Council on October 17, 2017.
  • Policy updates include recommendations for new Official Community Plan Flood Hazard Policy, a Development Permit Area and a new Floodplain Bylaw.
  • The IFHMP identified the Squamish River dike raising along Upper Judd Slough in Brackendale project as highest priority.
  • The District was successful in a federal grant application and is being awarded up to $3.9 million in Gas Tax funding for 1.2 kilometres of Squamish River dike upgrades.
  • The District was successful in receiving a $270K grant through the National Disaster Mitigation Program to complete a Master Plan for the Eagle Viewing Area/Seaichem Reserve area (work currently underway)
  • Squamish River dike upgrades were completed in 2019.

Plan Recognition

  • Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC) Award of Excellence, Planning and Individual Achievement (2018)
  • International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) Award of Merit (2019)

What people are saying

“The Squamish IFHMP advances flood risk management in BC and should serve as a template for other communities.” -  Lotte Flint-Petersen, former BC Deputy Inspector of Dikes.

“The District of Squamish’s Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan (IFHMP) is an excellent example of local work to strengthen flood mitigation and reduce flood vulnerability.The IFHMP includes many best-practices such as the integration of climate science, the integration of planning, engineering, and the environment, consideration of both riverine and coastal flood risks, use of a sustainability lens, and the inclusion of community engagement processes.” – Steve Litke, Senior Program Manager, Fraser Basin Council






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