New report shows Fraser River's importance

A report on the Fraser River basin, presented at a conference on the Lower Fraser Valley Flood Management Program on July 15 shows the economic importance of the river to residents of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and B.C.

Chambers of commerce in the Lower Mainland have been instrumental in  promoting a wider understanding of the many uses of the Fraser Basin, its opportunities and the risks ahead of it. A report commissioned by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and supported by other chambers, entitled “The Economic Importance of the Fraser River,” outlines some of the most interesting aspects of the river’s influence, and makes recommendations for the future.

Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has been studying the issue for several years, and presenting resolutions at provincial and national chamber meetings.

“The Lower Fraser River is crucially important to the Fraser Valley and Metropolitan Vancouver,” says the report, authored by D.E. Park and Associates. “It is one of the most economically significant waterways in Canada, and is a prime economic generator in British Columbia. The Lower Fraser is a key factor in supporting the 2.6 million population of the Lower Mainland of the province.

“However, the Lower Fraser faces a number of significant challenges. If these are not dealt with effectively and promptly, they could jeopardize future growth and could result in great damage and huge financial losses in the nearer term.”

The river is essential to numerous industries, including port activities, fisheries, agriculture, forest products, aggregate (sand and gravel), boating, outdoor recreation and float planes.

One of the challenges they face is flooding, both from an increased river flow in some years and climate change, which makes it harder to know what to expect.

“There are 300,000 people and $50 billion worth of development on the flood plain of the Lower Fraser River. These are vulnerable to the increasingly frequent extreme weather events that are projected to impact the river. In 2007, the river came perilously close to overtopping the dykes in the Fraser Valley during the spring freshet. A recent authoritative study predicts that “so-called 100-year flood events will occur in roughly four to ten year intervals,” the report states.

Three river crossings are badly in need of replacement. The George Massey Tunnel  is slated to be replaced by a bridge, which has been announced by Premier Christy Clark. Construction will not begin until 2017.

There are no specific plans to replace the Pattullo Bridge, built in 1937, although it has been mentioned by mayors in a recent transportation proposal. Meanwhile, the New Westminster rail bridge, built in 1904, remains a crucial choke point for rail traffic, but there are no plans to replace it.

“One of the main challenges to managing the Lower Fraser River is co-ordinating the many government and non-government stakeholders that maintain the river. At the time of writing this report, there were 15 municipal governments and 29 First Nations groups along the banks of the Lower Fraser River, and over 20 provincial and federal ministries involved in the administration of the river.”

The port is a key component of both the river-based economy and the provincial economy.

Preliminary analysis carried out during the study indicates that the impact of port and shipping facilities and related activities for the Lower Fraser River in 2012 would have been approximately 41,500 jobs, $2.5 billion in wages, and $4 billion in GDP.

The Fraser Basin Council is an example of the benefits of co-ordinating multiple stakeholders and stewards of the Fraser River. Over a period of 20 years, it has engaged the public in all regions of the Fraser River on how and what “sustainability” of the Fraser River should look like. The report states that “Knowing that sustainability is best represented by a balancing of environmental, social and economic factors, and that the myriad agencies that administer unique aspects of the Lower Fraser River fall into one of these categories, the council is an appropriate organization to start a discussion in order to move forward.”

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