Creeks & Streams
Creeks and streams are formed by natural processes that are affected by human influences. Forested land has a capacity to absorb rainfall, through evaporation, evapo-transpiration, and infiltration into the ground. When the rate of rainfall exceeds the absorption capacity of the land, the excess rainfall runs off in a downhill direction. As it progresses downhill, this “surface runoff” from adjacent lands merges together to create brooks, creeks, streams and rivers.
Creeks and streams abound in the City of Abbotsford, as shown on the creeks and streams map. Most carry flows to the Fraser River, but some in the southwest corner of the City connect to the Nooksack River in the U.S. Creeks and streams are watercourses and, in British Columbia, all watercourses are owned by the province. The use of water in them is governed by the provincial Water Sustainability Act, administered by the Ministry of Forests. Any changes or modifications to watercourses require approval from both the Ministry of Forests and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
As development occurs near watercourses in the City of Abbotsford, the channels and adjacent riparian areas are generally left as is. Runoff from adjacent developed lands is normally piped underground and conveyed to the watercourses, through infrastructure designed to minimize the impacts.
Erosion of creek banks is a natural process but it can be accelerated by development, both urban and rural. As the original forested cover is removed from land, more rainfall runs off of it and ends up in watercourses. The cumulative effects generally result in more erosion, if not properly managed. On some creeks in the City, urban development that occurred prior to the implementation of stormwater management requirements is causing erosion.
The Engineering Department will assist owners of property in the urban area which are threatened by eroding creek banks by assessing the erosion sites, trying to determine the cause, and if necessary, arranging for protective or bank stabilization works. Erosion of creek banks in rural areas is generally not related to urban land development and is the responsibility of the property owner.
Requests for new driveway culverts, or widening of existing ones, require an approved Highways Excavation Permit when they are located on the road allowance. Please contact the Engineering Department at 604-864-5514.
Applications for permits are reviewed to determine the safety of the proposed driveway location, and to determine the required culvert diameter. Construction can be completed by private construction firms, or by City crews at the applicant’s cost.
Rural Lowland Drainage & Irrigation
Prime agricultural land, created by sediment deposited by the Fraser River, is located in the areas known as Sumas Prairie and Matsqui Prairie. Both areas used to flood regularly, and are now protected from further flooding by dikes. Drainage behind the dikes is improved by pumping water over them in winter/spring months, and irrigation water is supplied in ditches in summer months.
The funds needed to maintain and operate the improvements are collected from the benefiting properties via Local Service Area levies. A Dyking, Drainage, and Irrigation Committee, one for each area, makes recommendations to Council on the disbursement of those funds, and assists staff in the administration of the improvements.
The Operations division of the Engineering Department, managed by the Manager, Drainage is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the drainage and irrigation pump stations, and the flood protection dikes in the Sumas and Matsqui Prairie Dyking Districts.
For irrigation zones in each Prairie, please refer to the following:
During the summer months, snow on the mountain melts and the runoff causes the Fraser River level to rise. The Matsqui dikes are designed to prevent water in the Fraser River from entering into the Matsqui Prairie area; however, some water pooling in the prairie near the dike may occur. This is quite common and happens around all dikes. This phenomenon is due to the pressure difference created by the high water level in the river. It is not dangerous as long as water coming out of the seepage pool* is clear. If, however, the water becomes cloudy or contains river sand, it is a sign of an active boil**. This is serious and needs to be addressed immediately.
To minimize the seepage pooling and/or a boil on you property, please avoid the following activities from May to September near the dikes.
- the removal of trees or stumps;
- deep cultivation of fields; and
- digging holes with machines.
Historical Seepage and Boil locations are shown below.
- 2015 - no seepage or boils observed
- 2019 - no seepage or boils observed
View more information on the snow survey and freshet season.
View real-time River level at the Mission gauge (08MH024).
If you have experienced seepage and/or sand boils on your property and if you are in the process of selling, please provide this information to the potential buyer.
To report water pooling on your property or to get information on the freshet season, please contact the Dyking, Drainage and Irrigation Department at 604-853-5485.
*Seepage Pool: Clear water coming out of the ground on the land side of the dike due to pressure from high water level in the river. This is very common and is not serious.
**Piping and Boil: When the water levels in the river stay high for an extended period of time, the seepage can increase in volume and velocity. This can, sometimes, start moving sand and soil from the dike foundation. This erosion of sand and soil is called piping. The discharge end of the active sand or soil pipe is called boil. (Source: US Army Corps of Engineering)
The Ditch Maintenance Program is a service provided by the City to the agricultural and rural areas of Matsqui and Sumas Prairies. It includes cleaning approximately 280 km of ditches on an annual basis.
In 2012, changes were made to the Ditch Cleaning Pilot Program, in consultation with the DDI Committees and Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The new Ditch Maintenance Program has worked well in the last few years. Minimal flooding complaints were received in both prairies. All ditch maintenance work was completed before November 30, ensuring the drainage system was ready for the rainy season. Please refer to the Ditch Maintenance Program Fact Sheet for more information on the Ditch Maintenance Program.
The ditch maintenance work is completed using a track excavator with a 3 meter wide ditching bucket. For the excavator to reach the ditches on or along your property, a clear 6 meter (20 foot) access next to the ditch is required.
Access for ditch maintenance was one of the major challenges we encountered since the new ditch cleaning program was in place. Access to some of the diches was restricted either due to crops, equipment or machinery.
To ensure the Ditch Maintenance Program is successful, it is important that clear access to the ditches on or along your property is maintained. If possible, please ensure:
- All crops and/or machinery are cleared from the land next to the ditches from September 15 to November 30 every year.
- All permanent crops such as blueberries, etc. be planted a minimum 6 meters (20 feet) away from the top of the ditch to allow clear access for cleaning.
Individual farmers will be notified to provide access at least two weeks before the excavator reaches their property.
Due to the limited cleaning window and the large number of ditches that require cleaning, if your ditch is missed due to unavailable access, staff may not be able to come back to clean your ditch. The ditch will be cleaned in the following year when access becomes available.
General information regarding ditch maintenance is provided below:
A good Beneficial Management Practice (BMP) program will reduce soil erosion, air pollution and impacts on water quality. In the flat areas of Abbotsford, the north east wind in the winter months blows the soil from uncovered lands and fills in the drainage watercourses. This increases the need for ditch cleaning and increases the maintenance costs. Cover crops are an excellent way to reduce soil erosion. Please see below for guidelines to reduce wind erosion and information on the Beneficial Management Practices:
Seven erosion arcs have formed along the south bank of the Fraser River between the northerly tip of Matsqui Prairie and Sumas Mountain since 1997. This section of river bank is prone to erosion and rock protection was placed along the bank in 1971 and 1983. Scouring along the south bank continues to be a significant problem. The river flow is changing direction causing scouring and deepening at the base of the bank. This eventually undermines the rock protection, causing the rock to move, resulting in bank erosion and movement. The erosion arcs visible above the water level are only the “tip of the iceberg” and most of the damage is occurring underneath the water level.
Erosion Arc E
Beharrell Road Erosion Arc (E) appeared on Metro Vancouver Parks lands (east of Beharrell Road) after the 2013 freshet and was only 30 m away from the Matsqui Dike. If left unrepaired it posed a significant threat to public safety as it could undermine the dike, flood Matsqui Prairie and result in potential loss of life and catastrophic economic impact. The Matsqui Dike protects nearly 5,000 hectares of diverse agricultural land in the Matsqui Prairie, historic Clayburn and Matsqui Village, Matsqui First Nations and major regional infrastructure such as Highway 11, railways, National Defense Communication centre, BC Hydro towers, gas mains, water transmission main and the JAMES Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Design work for the Beharrell Road Erosion Arc was initiated in December 2013, with tendering and award in January 2014. Construction started in February 2014 and repair work substantially completed on March 31, 2014. Cost to repair the Beharrell Road Erosion Arc is $2.8M, of which $1.45M was funded by the Province and the remainder by the City of Abbotsford.
Erosion Arcs F and G
In December 2015, a sixth erosion arc (F) was discovered and was only 40 m away from the Matsqui dike. The City engaged Northwest Hydraulic Consultants (NHC) to evaluate the latest erosion arc. NHC assessed the risk of the latest erosion arc and concluded that if left unrepaired, it would grow in size and potentially compromise the dike during the 2016 freshet or sooner. In March 2016, Provincial funding of $4M was received to address the emergency repair. During the emergency repair work in April 2016, erosion arc F expanded downstream. The repair cost is now estimated at $3M, with some work remaining to be complete after the freshet.
Around the same time when erosion arc (F) was discovered, a seventh smaller erosion arc (G) was forming. New erosion arcs will continue to form along the south bank until a comprehensive approach is taken to deal with the change of flow within the river. The primary concern is that the erosion arcs will enlarge and eventually breach the Matsqui dike causing failure and catastrophic flooding of the Matsqui floodplain which carries a significant risk of loss of life and an economic impact ranging from $1.8 Billion to $2.6 Billion.
The Fraser River Erosion Study, completed in July 2015 by NHC, identifies the cause of the erosion arcs to be sediment deposition in the main channel deflecting the Fraser River towards the south bank, which deepens the channel, causing the existing rock protection to fail, exposing the fine grained soils resulting in the formation of erosion arcs. The study identified six mitigation options with high level budgets to address this emerging concern.
In December 2015, Abbotsford City Council supported the “submerged rock spur” option, at a cost of $8 to $10M, and made a request to senior government funding to address this urgent issue. The rock spur option is the least disruptive option, can be done in phases, can be completed in sections to determine effectiveness, and is one of the less expensive options. (Note that the $8M does not include studies and environmental mitigation.)
Rural Upland Drainage
Drainage of properties in rural upland areas is provided by natural watercourses (rivers, creeks, and streams) and the man-made ditches connected to them. Natural watercourses and streambeds are owned by the Crown on behalf of all residents of the Province. The Water Stewardship division of the Ministry of Environment protects the rights of the Province, through an approval process for any and all diversions of water, uses of water, and any changes a property owner or person desires to make in and about a stream.
Watercourses change over time, as a result of natural and human factors, and those changes can adversely affect the drainage of nearby lands. For example, when a watercourse is blocked, upstream properties can be flooded. Or, as a result of land-clearing or development activities, downstream properties can be flooded or experience erosion of creek banks. Some maintenance of watercourses is generally required over time.
Most areas of the City pay drainage user fees, allowing the City to fund maintenance and improvement activities in watercourses and drainage systems. The rural upland area does not and a recent proposal to enact a user fee bylaw to generate funds to do this type of work was strongly opposed by some property owners. The responsibility for maintenance therefore continues to rest with the owner of the property containing a watercourse. The City established funding from general revenue for minimum roadside ditch maintenance. However, this funding does not include creeks and streams maintenance and replacements of road culverts. The replacement of driveway culverts would be the responsibility of individual property owners.
If you, as a property owner, wish to arrange for maintenance works on a watercourse, the Provincial Habitat Officer needs to be involved. The following websites provide information and application forms:
Please note one of the conditions will likely be that the work be done between July 15 and September 15 of any given year in order to minimize the impact on the Fisheries resource.
When forested land is logged and changed to pasture or is developed for other uses, less rainfall is caught and retained by the trees and soil. More runs off the land, increasing the flow in downstream ditches, creeks and streams. With “intense” development, more land is covered with impervious surfaces such as asphalt or roofs, dramatically increasing runoff. The increase will, if not managed, result in the erosion of creek banks and downstream lands will be flooded.
The City of Abbotsford requires stormwater management measures for urban development.
Rainfall which runs off the land in the City is collected by ditches in the rural areas, and by roof drains, catch basins, lawn drains, and some ditches in the urban area. It is conveyed by ditches or underground pipes to nearby watercourses. The quality of the flow in the runoff is adversely impacted by human-generated pollutants from both urban and rural activities.
Protection of the City’s fisheries sensitive watercourses is an important environmental objective. Recent advances in ways to improve the quality of urban runoff are being reviewed and added to the City’s development requirements. As new infrastructure is built, water quality devices are added to screen out some of the pollutants.
For infrastructure that is already built, City activities such as street sweeping and catch basin cleaning help keep pollutants out of downstream creeks and streams. But, there is definitely a role each resident can play, by:
- minimizing herbicide and pesticide use on lawn and garden areas;
- washing cars on lawn areas, not on driveways and roads;
- recycling used oils and antifreeze, and not dumping them in catch-basins; and
- keeping topsoil deliveries off the street
In urban areas, surface runoff is generally directed to detention facilities and released slowly into underground storm sewer pipes, or infiltrated into the ground via infiltration facilities. The City of Abbotsford requires development of urban lands to be accompanied by stormwater management measures.
Runoff from large roofed areas is encouraged to be infiltrated into the ground. Runoff from other areas is directed to large holding ponds or tanks, where it is released at a rate which attempts to mimic the pre-development runoff patterns. In some developments, management techniques such as rain gardens, biofiltration swales, and absorbent soils are or will be used to filter runoff (to remove pollutants) and to further reduce the peak flows.
The size of the underground pipes is calculated using criteria the City defines in the Engineering Standards of the Development Bylaw, but which is designed to protect property from nuisance flooding.
Those underground pipes are connected to creeks and streams, and the discharge has three main consequences:
- The quality of the water in the creek can be adversely impacted
- The volume of the discharge can result in downstream flooding
- The magnitude of the peak flow can result in downstream erosion
In older areas of Abbotsford, homes were often constructed without underground storm sewer pipes. In some locations, ditches convey the surface runoff away, in other locations, the soil is very porous, and surface runoff either does not exit, or it is collected and infiltrated into the ground using “rock pits” or other underground facilities. Home owners in these areas encountering drainage problems may need to check their perimeter drains, or re-construct their rock pits.
Fishtrap Creek ISMP
The Fishtrap Creek watershed is located in the southwest portion of the City, running west beyond Ross Road, north to Blueridge Drive and east to Trethewey Street. The Fishtrap Creek detention area was originally built as a large stormwater management facility to minimize the downstream flooding caused by development. This greenspace has been impacted by development and agricultural activities.
The City is putting together a plan for this area that will work to resolve some of the issues such as flooding, poor drainage, overgrowing vegetation, fish and wildlife habitat loss and poor water quality.
Clayburn Creek ISMP
The City of Abbotsford completed an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan for the Clayburn Creek watershed. The watershed covers approximately 2,250 ha from mountainous area as high as 530 m to Matsqui lowland of 4 m above the sea level. It has multiple tributaries including Stoney Creek, Poignant Creek, and Diane Brook. Clayburn Creek drains through Matsqui Slough into Fraser River. The current issues include active stream bank erosion, instability of steep ravine slopes, and lowland flooding. In addition to the current residential areas, future development has been planned in the watershed.
The purpose of the study was to develop strategies to enhance flood and environmental protections while facilitating orderly development and redevelopment in the upland area. The Final Report was adopted by Council in June 2012.
- Clayburn Creek ISMP - Final Report (May 2012)
- Clayburn Creek ISMP - Final Report - Appendices (May 2012)
Willband Creek ISMP
The Willband Creek watershed is located in the centre of the City, and includes Mill Lake, west as far as Clearbrook Road, North to Matsqui Prairie and east beyond McMillan Road. The total catchment area is an estimated 1,800 hectares. A significant portion of the watershed is within the City core area of urban development.
A healthy environment is important to creating a complete and vibrant community. The City needs to balance development without adverse effects on the environment. The City has adopted the Final Plan for the Willband Creek watershed, to ensure we have good stormwater/flood management practices, good water quality, productive fish habitats, and healthy natural areas for residents to enjoy.