Low water levels in Okanagan Lake and the river channel through Penticton are no cause for concern, according to experts.
Shaun Reimer, the section head for public safety and protection in the Okanagan Shuswap District with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, explained that while the water levels have been much higher in recent years, this was due to a larger snowpack and more rainfall.
“This is typical for a low snowpack year. For every low snowpack year that continues to be dry, we will have more moderate or minimal outflows coming out of Okanagan Lake,” said Reimer. “That’s very different than we’ve seen in the last two years.”
Reimer said this year is comparable to 2015, which also saw a smaller snowpack resulting in lower water levels. He explained the ministry previously determined target levels, which they manage through Okanagan Lake’s output.
“We try, near the end of June, to get to our full target level of 342.48 meters above sea level. We’re very unlikely to get there this year, but the reason this target level was chosen many years ago is the idea that it would allow us the ability to release more water later in the summer for irrigators and fisheries,” said Reimer. “And for various interest groups, including recreational.”
While the South Okanagan has seen rain recently, Reimer said: “it’s very suggestive that we’re going to be entering into a full-on drought.” He said even if that is the case, it would still not be cause for immediate panic.
“We don’t know that for certain, it could start raining anytime. But should that develop, we would still be releasing enough water for the irrigators and the fish from the Okanagan River,” said Reimer. “That is in the first year of a drought. The problem would come if we were to get into a second or third year of a drought. That would mean we’d have to make some harder decisions.”
Reimer said the last time the area saw a major, multi-year drought was 1929 through to 1931. He said if this year is a drought year for the South Okanagan, the water levels right now indicate it would not be equivalent to what the area dealt with nearly a century ago.
“That was a very significant drought, and if we were to go there again we’d be facing some real problems,” said Reimer. “But even the water we’re coming in at now is higher than any of those individual years. We’re just trying to be prudent right now with the water, and then release a little bit more later in the summer.”
He added that “we are taking advantage” of creeks that are continuing to feed into the Okanagan River between Penticton and Osoyoos Lake, which is keeping the water level higher.
“As those creek levels drop off, we’d probably be upping the flow a little bit out of Penticton.”
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