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Feral horse rescued from rising waters in South Okanagan

Spring run-off has helped pump up the water level in the Okanagan River, prompting the B.C. government to issue a public safety warning.

“Obviously watch your children, pets and stay away from the edge of the river,” said Des Anderson, the regional head of public safety and protection for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

His department uses a series of dams to help regulate the level in the Okanagan River system, and is currently making room for an expected above-average spring melt.

“We’ve been moving quite a bit of water out of the system,” he said.

Anderson noted an inflow forecast for Okanagan Lake prepared on May 1 predicts the volume this year will be 134 per cent of normal. That forecast was at just 94 per cent a month earlier.

“What happened was there was a late build-up of the snowpack at high elevations in the snowshed,” he explained, adding “it’s early enough in the season for us to react to that larger volume.”

Whether the high projected inflow leads to flooding will depend on the weather, he continued, as normal temperatures and precipitation levels will help ease those concerns.

“If we have a gradual melt through May and into June, then that is favourable,” Anderson said.

Environment Canada data shows the Okanagan River just downstream of the dam at Penticton has risen by about a half a metre in the past week, while discharge has doubled to 34 cubic metres per second.

The increases have been equally noticeable in the south, where natural tributaries are adding to the volume. A gauge on the river between Oliver and Osoyoos shows the level has risen by about 40 centimetres in a week, while the discharge has nearly doubled to 50 cubic metres per second.

Okanagan Lake rose about 10 centimetres over the same period.

Rescuers pulled together on Saturday to save a wild horse from tumultuous waters at Trout Creek. Theresa Nolet of  O.A.T.S. horse rescue said a woman had been out walking and saw the foal struggling in the water. Summerland Firefighters with the help of Jennifer Ashton of O.A.T.S. and Nolet managed to get a rope around the horse to get it to safe ground.

“The first rope slipped off and it was a heart-stopping moment. Luck was on her side though because she went down a distance and managed to get her footing,” said Nolet. “It is a dire situation for anyone or anything that falls into the creek at this time of year.”

The horse, which has since been named River, suffered only minor injuries and is now in foster care.

“In some ways it was the worst day of her life, but also the best because now she is going to have a chance for a home,” said Nolet.

Nolet said the organization is looking after several horses and is in need of foster homes, food and vet care. Contact her at bullterrier@shaw.ca.

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