Cherylle Douglas, a resident of Merritt, B.C., compares her life to living on the brink of an active volcano. She often wakes up multiple times at night to check the Coldwater River’s levels, which once flowed beside what was her home. Now, she resides in an RV on a muddy pad, the former site of her family’s trailer. Next to her RV sits her daughter’s trailer, which remains unoccupied due to safety concerns.
In November 2021, an atmospheric river triggered a flood that devastated large areas of the province, including Merritt. This event forced the evacuation of all 7,000 residents and damaged over 600 houses, with 300 needing extensive repairs or demolition. Two years post-flood, the community, including Douglas, is still grappling with the trauma and fears of a recurrence.
“People have no idea what those of us that live through this flood went through and what we go through every day. It’s really scary,” Douglas shares her ordeal.
Sean Strang, the director of recovery and mitigation with the city, echoes these concerns. He highlights the uncertainty surrounding flood prevention funding, emphasizing the need for a clear financial path forward from the province. Strang draws a stark comparison between the risk of flooding in Merritt and living under an active volcano, underscoring the unpredictability and danger inherent in their situation.
Engineers’ estimates post-flood have revealed alarming figures: nearly 1,270 homes are at risk of flooding, many of which have been repaired or rebuilt since 2021. Strang points out the distinct behaviors of Merritt’s two rivers, the Coldwater and Nicola, with the former being more destructive during floods.
The city’s struggle to secure adequate funding for flood mitigation has been a significant challenge. Despite the province’s acknowledgment of the risks, efforts have been hampered by funding limitations. The provincial and federal governments have committed funds for recovery and mitigation, but restrictions on spending and land ownership have complicated matters.
In March 2022, the province funded a flood mitigation plan for Merritt, including land buyback proposals. However, by January 2023, the city was informed that the province had no funds to purchase these properties. More recently, in November, the province announced $2 million for 200 meters of dyking along the Coldwater River, but this falls short of the city’s needs.
“It’s a frustrating place to live,” Strang expresses his exasperation, highlighting the challenges in implementing effective flood prevention measures due to policy and land acquisition issues.