Penticton city officials were in Kelowna this week, learning how to deploy Tiger Dams, flexible, water-filled bladders that can take the place of sandbags for protecting sensitive areas. -Photo courtesy Larry Watkinson

Keeping a watch on water levels

Local officials are prepared if warming weather or more rain causes flooding this weekend

Penticton may not be in immediate danger of flooding, but city officials are not going to be caught flat-footed if it does.

Fire Chief Larry Watkinson and Len Robson, manager of public works, spent time in Kelowna this week training in operations procedures for using Tiger Dams, the water-filled flexible sandbag replacements already in use there to protect sensitive areas.

Penticton doesn’t have the dams yet, but Watkinson said the city has put in a request with the emergency operations centre in Kamloops, asking for five kilometres worth to protect the lakefronts.

“They have to do an evaluation before they will actually allow it to come to Penticton,” said Watkinson, adding that Penticton is on the standby list, since it is not in what he would consider extreme risk or imminent danger, but they continue to plan ahead.

“If we had a big storm it would be something to be more concerned about,” said Watkinson. “We feel we can handle the melt from the snow up in the mountains. It’s when we compound that with the rain from a storm that we become more at risk.”

Jayme Friedt, co-ordinator for the Meadowlark Nature Festival, said the flooding isn’t expected to cause problems for the festival this weekend, though there have been some workarounds.

“For example, the road is washed out at Chute Lake so the cycling tours have to start down a bit lower. There may be a minor diversion on the Garnet Valley tour,” said Friedt in an email. “Other than that… it’ll all be a bit mucky I’m sure!”

Watkinson said the dam on the Okanagan River Channel is open all the way and dumping as much water as it possibly can. He is less concerned for the creek levels than groundwater saturation in low-lying levels, noting that the firefighters have already been out helping yacht club members sandbagging. That area, and the Redwings housing development, he added, are probably the lowest threatened areas.

“We’re also concerned about saturation issues, flooding in basements and so on, but more concern about the overland water when we get a storm,” said Watkinson, adding that the fire department is working closely with city officials and the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen, which opened their Emergency Operations Centre last week.

Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the RDOS said there are ongoing situations around the district, which stretches from Summerland to Keremeos.

Some areas, like the water levels in the Tulameen river, he said, have dropped off, but there is the possibility it will rise again with warmer weather melting snow faster or more rain.

Different parts of the region are experiencing different effects from rising waters, he said, like Cawston.

“That’s where a lot of the creeks have jumped their banks and they’re trying to make new creeks all over the orchards and vineyards so it becomes a bit of a challenge for the farming community and the agricultural industry,” said Kronebusch. “But so far I think they’re coping fairly well.”

There are a lot more residents in trouble in the Oliver area, Kronebusch said.

“We’ve still got severe flooding in the rural Oliver area, said Kronebusch, adding that another problem is developing.

“It’ll produce a ton of mosquitoes with all that water lying around,” he said. The RDOS has already started mosquito control operations, and another flight is expected over the entire Okanagan Valley Friday to distribute the mosquito larvicide.

Naramata continues to experience flooding problems with swollen creeks running rampant, though the boil water order for that area has been lifted.

“We’ve got a fairly aging population out there,” said Kronebusch, adding that the Naramata fire department has stepped in to help, getting sandbags out to the residents and doing a lot of the heavy lifting for them.

Kronebusch said the RDOS has already distributed some 80 loads of sand around the region, along with countless sandbags.

“We expect the Okanagan Lake to continue to rise, especially with the warmer weather,” said Kronebusch. That’s going to continue, he added, as long as the area keeps getting snow in the evening or early mornings.

“Apex (Mountain} is getting lots of snow,” said Kronebusch. He and Watkinson both warn people to use common sense through the holiday weekend and steer clear of the creeks and streams.

“We certainly don’t want people entering into the streams and into the river channel this time of year because it is unpredictable — there’s debris in the water and there is fast-moving water,” said Watkinson, adding that the fire department does have trained rescue teams, but they don’t want to have to call them in.

“We certainly don’t want to be going in the water to your rescue or recovery and it’s avoidable. People should stay out of the water,” said Watkinson.