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Residents and homes on edge as Millstream Creek rises; one home loses half of backyard

“It looks like a meteor hit the backyard,” homeowner says. “I just heard a terrific crunch and whoosh. We took a flashlight outside and saw two trees went over and half of the backyard was just gone.”

Jeff Morrow’s home teeters on the edge of Millstream Creek in Langford, his backyard swallowed by a 30-foot sinkhole and his deck left hanging.

“It looks like a meteor hit the backyard,” said Morrow. “I just heard a terrific crunch and whoosh. We took a flashlight outside and saw two trees went over and half of the backyard was just gone.”

On the other side of the creek, Julian ­Szostakiwskyj’s property was a lake, his home of 40 years under a foot of water.

As homeowners along Atkins Road continue to assess and clean up after the Nov. 15 deluge, the Millstream was rising again Thursday, as the first of three more atmospheric rivers of rain started filling the creek.

Szostakiwskyj was out with a chainsaw cutting away the crown of a maple tree that toppled off ­Morrow’s backyard and was collecting debris.

Szostakiwskyj, who is still in the process of ­mopping up after the last flood, salvaging what he can from his basement, was watching the creek ­carefully. “It’s a worry,” he said.

Morrow said reminders remain from Millstream’s earlier fury, with plastic lawnchairs and tarps ­hanging high on creekside trees and garbage cans submerged in the water.

He and his wife, Cheryl, have applied for disaster relief from the province to shore up his caved-in backyard. Their home of more than 30 years has been surveyed by engineers and is considered safe, although the couple say that could change, depending on what impact continued rain has on creek levels and the condition of the bank.

Morrow said bank-mitigation measures could start in eight to 10 weeks, but more permanent fixes aren’t likely until July.

The province’s disaster relief fund is offering 80% of the amount of total eligible damage, less $1,000, to a maximum of $300,000.

Ian Bruce, executive director of the Peninsula Streams Society, which works to restore salmon habitat, was waist-deep in Millstream Creek on Thursday helping to keep it clear. Bruce has been trying to assess fallen trees and other debris piling up all along the Millstream watershed — extending from its source in the Highlands and flowing through Langford, Colwood and View Royal, where it spills into Esquimalt Harbour near Six Mile Pub.

Clearing the creek is a priority as rain starts to fall again, said Bruce, especially from the fish ladder and spillway on Atkins Road down to the E&N overpass tunnel on the View Royal border.

Bruce said the debris-clogged tunnel under the E&N caused severe flooding and home damages during an extreme rainfall in 1991, and the province spent about $500,000 to improve creek banks on the Millstream.

If the tunnel is blocked, it’s “really problematic,” Bruce said. “There’s nowhere for that water to go. There’s no Plan B. It will back up, up and up, spill over roads and into properties and ruin creek banks.”

The Millstream watershed also collects runoff all through its route, said Bruce, and the volume of water collected is enormous during extreme rain events.

He said a lot of the runoff is a result of increasing development in Langford. As more roads, parking lots and properties are built, there’s less absorption and flood plains available.

Flood plains help siphon off and store water from raging river systems, because when river and creek speeds start to slow, flood waters are able to flow back into the waterway’s natural course.

Langford Mayor Stew Young said city engineering staff have been monitoring and clearing debris out of the Millstream since the Nov. 15 deluge and are preparing reports for council on potential mitigation measures.

“We might have to get into the creek area to pour concrete to protect some banks, and some of this will be extremely expensive,” said Young.

He said the city will first consult with the federal Fisheries Department and provincial government about areas of concern, and the hope is they will share some of the costs.

“In my 61 years in Langford, I’ve never seen the rainfall we’ve experienced this month,” said Young. “It shows our climate is changing and we have to be prepared.”

Aaron Sutherland, a spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said while there are no policies available to homeowners for landslides, it’s possible to get insurance for overland flooding. He said about 95% of British Columbians can secure themselves with policies depending on the flood risks in the areas they live.

Sutherland said premiums for those policies usually start at $300, but can be higher based on the terrain around your home.

dkloster@timescolonist.com