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What happened to the precautionary principle in issuing river forecasts?

Filed for publication with the Mirror

Filed for publication with the Mirror

Honourable Minister Farnworth,

Why did you put the responsibility for the recent flood disasters on the shoulders of local municipalities when they clearly lie within your ministry?

Why did the staff of the BC River Forecasting Centre fail to issue the appropriate flood warning advisories given the data available to them?

I have attached a disturbing article about your government’s response in The Tyee in which Allan Chapman, a former director of the BC River Forecast Centre, discusses in great detail the failure to act on the available data and forecast which resulted in catastrophic loss of human and animal life, massive destruction of homes, livelihoods and public infrastructure, severe dislocation of people and the ensuing economic chaos.

It makes for informative reading but the main points are that:

The raison d’etre of the River Forecasting Centre (under your ministry) and Emergency Management BC is to prevent avoidable injury and death and limit damage to property and critical public infrastructure.

According to Mr. Chapman, ample rain and river forecasting information was available by noon Thursday Nov. 11 to trigger the first flood warning advisory for many rivers which could have enabled farmers to move livestock, people to prepare their homes and discourage the use of the highways. Yet the first minor advisory of “high stream flow” happened noon Saturday.

The RFC is tasked with communicating critical early forecast information to Emergency Management BC which is responsible for communicating to local municipalities and can trigger all manner of responses and support to local to them.

The State of Washington issued its first general warning Nov 8, its first flood warning Nov 10 and its highest level warning Thursday Nov. 11.

Have we learned nothing from our early responses to the COVID-19 pandemic? What happened to the precautionary principle in issuing river forecasts?

An independent inquiry is needed.

Helen Lee