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Okanagan Lake level on the rise as spring melt begins
Okanagan Lake’s water level dipped to its annual low during the Easter weekend, but a spell of warm weather and rain now has it back on the rise.
A team from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations had been drawing down the lake since January in order to make room for this spring’s melt water.
“We have eight to 10 weeks to go before we reach peak level in Okanagan Lake, and so really anything can happen in terms of the weather and that’s what we just have to watch for and react to as best we can,” said Des Anderson, who heads the ministry’s public safety and protection office in Penticton.
The lake’s level, which is controlled by a dam on its outflow in Penticton, is measured at a Kelowna gauge, data from which shows the water dropped by about 30 centimetres between Jan. 1 and April 1. Since then, it’s risen about 10 cm, but is still about 80 cm under the target maximum lake level that officials describe as full pool.
Anderson said this spring’s inflow forecast for the lake is currently projected at 116 per cent of normal, which is “manageable” if Mother Nature co-operates.
“Based on the current forecast and on normal conditions, things are looking OK. But things could change if the weather becomes extreme,” he added.
It’s much the same story region-wide.
According to the provincial government’s April 1 snowpack bulletin, the Okanagan-Kettle basin is at 107 per cent of normal, down from 115 per cent on March 1.
“In terms of flood risk, we’re slightly elevated in the Okanagan, but it’s not that high. (It’s) what we would consider to be normal,” said David Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre.
The Similkameen, however, continues to be on the dry side. Its snowpack was at 79 per cent of normal as of March 1, and creeped up to just 82 per cent as of April 1.
“That may have some implications as we get later in the summer in terms of water availability,” Campbell said.
Snowpack data is compiled with the help of 53 detectors scattered at high-elevation sites throughout the province that are grouped by major water basins into which the snow will melt.
Campbell said it’s tough to make predictions for flood season based only on snowpack data, since spring weather conditions will dictate how quickly the white stuff melts.
The latest snowpack bulletin contains a three-month forecast from Environment Canada that calls for “a high likelihood of above normal temperatures,” and “a higher likelihood of drier than normal April-June conditions” for central and southern B.C.