Flooding fears prompt evacuations in Okanagan

Naramata area residents able to return home after water levels recede for Chute Creek

These are two of the four culverts that were completely overwhelmed Friday by the outflow of Chute Lake

These are two of the four culverts that were completely overwhelmed Friday by the outflow of Chute Lake

Fears of a flash flood below Chute Lake never materialized over the weekend, but other communities haven’t been so lucky.

Several homes in West Kelowna were overtaken last week by a swollen McDougall Creek, while nearly a third of the houses in Tulameen got wet thanks to a rising water table and an over-full Otter Lake.

As of Tuesday, about 81 of Tulameen’s 272 homes had been “touched by contaminated water,” said Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkmaeen. Tulameen is 20 kilometres northwest of Princeton and has a permanent population of about 175 people.

Kronebusch said the footprint of the flood water is shrinking, but residents of three homes have been moved to temporary accommodations, while many others have “just toughed it out.”

Shuttleworth Creek near Okanagan Falls is also generating concern due to its fluctuating level, Kronebusch said.

Meanwhile, life has returned to normal for residents of 47 homes below Chute Lake in the Indian Rock area north of Naramata, who were subject to an evacuation order issued Friday by the RDOS.

At the south end of the lake is a concrete dam designed to maintain a maximum depth by allowing water to spill over top as needed. Once over the dam, the water is supposed to flow into a small meadow and then through four 90-centimetre culverts under the Elinor Lake Forest Service Road and into Chute Creek.

Due to heavy rain last week, however, water topped the dam by as much as 60 centimetres and then overwhelmed the culverts and began building up behind the forestry road. Sinkholes emerged in the road Friday, and it was feared it would give way and unleash a flood of water down the slope.

Excavators were brought in to dig out the section of road above the culverts and relieve the water pressure. By Saturday afternoon, the lake had returned to its normal level and the evacuation order was rescinded.

Twenty-one people spent Friday night at a hotel in Penticton, while others, like Dave Davenport, bunked with friends and family.

Davenport was entertaining company at his Indian Rock Road home Friday afternoon when he was presented a copy of the evacuation order by search and rescue personnel. The retired corporate lawyer had gotten wind of a possible evacuation, so he was already packed and prepared to spend the night with his sister in Penticton. Twenty-one other evacuees spent Friday night at a hotel.

“The evacuation was extremely and pleasantly well-organized,” Davenport said.

And despite the seriousness of the situation, he didn’t fear for his home or property.

“The road that they were talking about giving way is 20 miles up the mountain, and that water has got a long way to go,” Davenport said. “I think the problem they had is they didn’t know where the hell the water was going to go.”

RDOS chairman Dan Ashton said memories of the Testlinden Dam collapse and subsequent mudslide near Oliver in 2010, which destroyed five homes, were fresh in officials’ minds, so they exercised extreme caution to prevent a repeat.

Ashton also speculated the surge of water into Chute Lake could be a result of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, which burned away much of the vegetation that would normally sop up torrential rain and melt water.