The end of the driveway at the Wrights' home in Spiral Manufactured Home Park was virtually dry — save for puddles from the rain that had pelted down for most of the previous two days — when Linda Wright arrived home from work on Oct. 17, 2003.
Forty-five minutes later, “it was ankle deep,” she said of the floodwater that eventually inundated the home occupied by Linda, husband Jack and daughter Sarah in the northwest corner of the manufactured-home park. By Saturday (Oct. 18), the water — which was 5 ½ to six feet (1.6 to 1.8 metres) deep outside the home — was two feet deep inside.
By Sunday (Oct. 19), the family had started moving its belongings out to terra firma, on the other side of the B.C. Rail (now CN Rail) tracks.
Almost magically, a canoe appeared and the Wrights used it to help salvage what they could as part of the cleanup from what became known as “Lake Spiral.”
During one of those salvage trips, Linda Wright snapped a photo of Sarah, 13, seated in the front of the canoe, next to a pile of garbage bags filled with some of the family's treasures. The image wound up on page A6 of the Oct. 24, 2003, edition of The Chief.
The boat was one of a handful loaned to Spiral residents for use on that fateful weekend, Linda Wright said last Thursday (Oct. 10).
“I don't even know where the boat came from,” she said. “It just sort of appeared, probably from someone who had it and loaned it out.
“We had thought we were going to be walking out in hip waders… I don't know who loaned it, but we used it a couple times and then just tied it up nearby. I think the Squamish Emergency Program people may have dropped it off.
“One of the great things about that time is that there was just so much support from the community.”
Squamish, of course, has experienced flooding many times before. Within the memory of many residents, there were floods in both 1981 and 1982, the latter deluge having caused the washout of the M Creek Bridge on Highway 99 south of town, resulting in the deaths of nine people. There was also a significant deluge in 1991.
At the time, the flood that occurred in October 2003 — mostly affecting residents of the Paradise and Squamish valleys, Spiral and parts of Brackendale — was referred to as the “200-year flood” by some and the “flood of the century” in The Chief. Later, flood-hazard experts determined that it was probably a one-in-100 or a one-in-150-year event, said Rod MacLeod, the District of Squamish's (DOS) director of engineering.
Either way, it sparked an immediate response that included the buttressing and reinforcement of the Cheakamus River bridge north of town, the restoration and stabilization of erosion that occurred along the dike at Judd Slough and downstream in Brackendale, and the restoration of Paradise Valley Road and nearby “non-standard” dike, DOS officials said.
In 2004, a report prepared by Kerr Wood Leidal for the DOS included a laundry list of needed medium- and long-term flood hazard management projects, post-flood, along the Cheakamus, Cheekye, Squamish, Stawamus and Mamquam rivers.
“They put together a list of things to be done and we're still working on that list,” MacLeod said.
By 2015, DOS officials will have spent some $6 million as their one-third share of the $18 million worth of flood-hazard-management work done along Squamish's waterways since the 2003 flood. That includes upgrading the dike upstream from Judd Slough in Brackendale as well as the Mamquam/Squamish River dikes near North Yards.
DOS officials have also cooperated with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Squamish Nation to carry out sediment removal in local rivers — essentially increasing their capacity to handle water by lowering the bottom. That work, which is ongoing, has to be timed to minimize its impact on fish populations, MacLeod said.
“In past years, stuff didn't happen because there was fighting with DFO, but we've gotten together with them, local First Nations and conservation groups to work through those issues,” he said.
During the next two years, DOS officials hope to armour the dike at North Yards, a job that will require the removal of a stand of trees and the placement of rip-rap — huge boulders — along the riverbank at the confluence of the Mamquam and Squamish.
As well, this past summer, a sinkhole that appeared in the Squamish River dike just upstream from the eagle-viewing area in Brackendale resulted in a $200,000 project that helped give officials a better idea of what's needed in other, nearby segments of the dike.
After digging up the area around the sinkhole, engineers examined the types of materials used to build up the dike over the past five decades before building it back up with “good, compacted gravel,” MacLeod said.
At the north end of the eagle-viewing area, “the water is hitting the dike at almost 90 degrees and we really have to fix that area,” MacLeod said, adding that the DOS hopes to upgrade that section over the next two to three years.
“It's an incredibly expensive solution, and it's a complex issue, but we're working on it.”
Another big project that's on the DOS's radar screen is updating its 19-year-old Flood Hazard Management Plan. Officials are putting out a request for proposals for an engineering firm to prepare the plan, which MacLeod said will take two years to complete and involve extensive public input.
In addition to looking at what's needed in areas that might be prone to flooding from rivers and streams, the plan will include a major new component. Provincial officials have recently added a requirement for oceanfront communities such as Squamish to mitigate the chances of flooding from the rise in sea levels that's expected to occur between now and the year 2100, MacLeod said.
A recent recommendation that came to council — calling for the raising of Loggers Lane as part of a new “sea dike” to protect the downtown peninsula from the expected effects of climate change — is just the tip of the iceberg, MacLeod said.
Most of downtown Squamish, MacLeod said, has a water table only one or two metres below street level. As well, the fact that Squamish is planning to expand development to the Oceanfront lands only increases the need to ensure that areas along the oceanfront, Mamquam Blind Channel and up the Squamish River to North Yards are adequately protected, he said.
“The sea dike thing will be a whole other level,” MacLeod said. “Once the Flood Hazard Management Plan is done, it'll recommend sea dike work that's going to be many, many more millions of work that has to be done.”
The need for such work to continue virtually unabated between floods is a fact of life dictated by climate and geography, MacLeod said.
“It's one of the challenges of living where we live. The good news is we're living between the ocean and the mountains, but it's also a challenge,” he said.
“It's an ongoing process and we just have to keep at it. We have to continuously plan, both for the changes — the 2100 [sea-level-rise] thing is something that's just recently been put out there — but also to continue the work we've got set out already.”
For her part, Linda Wright said she and her family feel they're better prepared for flooding than they were before the 2003 event. Afterward, they spent six months living elsewhere while the water-damaged bottom four feet of their home was torn out and replaced. During the rebuilding process, the floor level was raised by about a metre.
That's not to say she feels 100 per cent secure. After what happened back then, you just never know, Wright said.
“If the water [in the future] gets as high as it was before, it would be about three inches below the floor joists,” she said, chuckling.
As for why young Sarah — then in Grade 8, now age 23 — was smiling through her braces as she helped ferry her family's belongings out 10 years ago, Linda Wright said, “We were just trying to keep things light. It was one of those situations where you either laugh or you cry.”