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Dyking Jurisdictions in Surrey

Dyking the Lowlands

Dyking has long been a major problem faced by the farmers of the Serpentine–Nicomekl lowland. Initially all dykes were built with hand labour, and some of them reached three feet in height. The first machine–made dykes were put in, in 1898, on the north bank of the Nicomekl from the Semiahmoo Road Bridge, around Mud Bay and up the Serpentine to the Woodward farm and the Semiahmoo Road. The dredge was a floating rig that took material from the river bottom for the construction of the dike.


The first machine–made dykes were put in about 1898 around the mouths of the Serpentine and Nicomekl Rivers. This dredge was used to build dykes in the Mud Bay area of Surrey, BC in 1901.

Settlers desired to keep out sea water as the salt deposited effectively ruined the soil for several seasons until the salt could be flushed out. To achieve this end the Surrey Drainage and Dyking By–law was passed in 1889 for the purpose of constructing an earth fill dam with flood gates at the mouth of the Serpentine River. Trouble arose, however, when a severe storm during the winter of 1890 washed a good portion of the newly-constructed dam as well as its flood gates out to sea. The dam was never reconstructed.

serpentine dam 1911 serpentine dam

These pictures were taken by Gordon Bishop, a retired employee of the Surrey Dyking District. The pictures were taken at low tide in September 2003 and show the remains of the pilings and the dirt fill from the 1889–90 attempt at an earth fill dam at the mouth of the Serpentine River.

The greatest difficulty in local dyking was the maintenance of the sea wall between the mouths of the rivers on Mud Bay. This was largely solved after 1907 when construction of the Great Northern Railway began and the railway assumed responsibility for the sea wall portion.

Burlington Northern Trestle mud bay flood box

This is the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe trestle at the mouth of the Serpentine River. The railways maintenance of the fore shore right of way largely solved the problem of a sea wall for flood protection. The flood box into Mud Bay has a one-way door which allows flood water out but closes with the tide to keep salt water out.

A major project to end sea-water flooding began in 1910 when the Surrey Dyking Commission began construction of cement dams and flood gates to replace the Semiahmoo Road bridges. The Semiahmoo Road was to act as a dike between the control dams on the Serpentine and Nicomekl Rivers. The control dams were not placed closer to the river mouths due to the difficulty in construction, and higher costs due to the wider river mouths. In addition local farmers were unable to agree on the location of inter-connecting dykes.

Private dykes existed both upstream and downstream from the Surrey Dyking Commission's control dams. The flood of 1935, resulting from heavy snow followed by five days of continuous rain, caused water to flow through the valley as if it was a single stream, and demonstrated the need for improved dyking along the river's headwaters. As a result the Surrey Dyking Commission in 1939, with federal government assistance, built forty-six miles of dykes along the rivers and their major tributaries. In the late 1940s, due to extensive flooding below the control dams, the Mud Bay Dicing Commission was established. The various dyking jurisdictions are illustrated in the accompanying map.

Dyking jurisdictions

As dyking and drainage were improved in Surrey's lowlands they provided greater security for local farmers against financial and physical loss. However, flooding can still occur as it did in December of 1982. The high run off from the uplands, combined with high winds and a high tide can back up the tidal water so that it tops the dyke.

In December 1982 a high tide and strong westerly winds backed up the serpentine river so that it topped the dyke and washing the top layers of the dyke away flooding the adjacent agricultural land.

Rebuilding the dykes Dec.'82 80th looking east along Serpentine Jan.'80

The Dyking District went into immediate action to rebuild the breached dykes on the south bank of the Serpentine. Flooding also occurred on 80th Avenue looking east from the Serpentine Bridge in January of 1980.

Flooding near Art Knapps Flooding near Art Knapps

In December 1982 the flood waters covered the area from the Great Northern Railway right of way east to King George Highway. Art Knapps Garden Centre was inundated with flood waters.

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