High water, high hopes for Penticton

It has been over three weeks since we’ve been dealing with high water and despite the media coverage of flooding across the Okanagan Valley, all of us who live here in Penticton know that we haven’t had any widespread flooding. News clips and social media posts from other regions of the Okanagan have shown canoes paddling through neighbourhoods and while this has created interest, it has also created concern. We do have a lot of out-of-town tourists phoning asking about whether or not they can access our local wineries or other amenities in the city.

Yes, we do have high water along Okanagan Lake but the city is open for business. The Lakeshore Drive walkway has become a beehive of interest for those who have never seen the lake so high. Despite that the SS Sicamous is actually floating, it is still open along with the other businesses along the lakeshore.

People remain anxious as the predictability of water levels, when it will crest, and if rain or wind will cause further damage changes daily and is much like the weather, difficult to predict. We’ve done a good job being proactive in building sandbag armouries, tiger dams, rebuilding the breakwater and fortifying the Yacht Club. We have over 120,000 sandbags along the lake with more in the waiting. Each day staff monitor the shoreline, measure the rate of water rise, and adjust resources to address any needs or breaches. City staff from public works, parks, and our fire department along with provincial firefighters and community volunteers have done a phenomenal job. It is times of crises that people pull together, set aside their differences, and volunteer to help their neighbours.

Many people have asked how they can volunteer to help, we are trying to plan a community clean up along the beach later on this month before our tourism season kicks into high gear. Currently, the driftwood is helping mitigate further erosion of the sand along the shoreline so we need to leave it where it is for the time being. We aren’t quite sure when the waters will recede enough to make it effective, so we might have to adjust our approach and cleanup section by section rather than a wholesale one-day cleanup.

With so many sandbags the question remains do we stockpile them for a rainy day or can we dump some of the sand on the beach. You might think sand is sand; however, most of the sand used is coarse and not the type of sand you would want to lie on or run your toes through. We are still evaluating how to deal with the excess sand once the water recedes.

I have asked our MLA and premier about provincial regulations when it comes to restoring our beach back to how it was before the high water erosion, and they assured me that common sense would prevail. Sometimes with government people feel common sense isn’t always so common, but the province has already stepped up in a big way by covering over $500,000 in costs associated with our flood prevention measures.

We won’t be able to assess the exact extent of the damage and costs associated with repair and restoration until the water levels reduce to normal and we can carry out inspections. In the meantime, Skaha Beach has been left relatively unscathed, we have outdoor adventure galore, lots of great wineries and dining options, and many other entertainment venues and attractions throughout the city. We are open for business and excited for our Okanagan summer to finally arrive. Let’s hope we don’t go from the extreme of too much water to not enough as fire season approaches.

Andrew Jakubeit is the Mayor of Penticton and provides the Western News with a column twice a month. Contact him via email Andrew.Jakubeit@penticton.ca. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJakubeit

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