The City Park dock in Kelowna was underwater due to rising Okanagan Lake flooding in 2017. (OBWB photo)

Okanagan facing extreme flooding risk

Water board calls for updated Okanagan Lake level management

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) has stepped up its efforts to advocate for a review of how the province manages Okanagan Lake levels.

The OBWB has sent a letter to the provincial government to raise its concerns to address the worst effects of climate change.

The correspondence is backed up by letters of support from municipal governments across the Okanagan Valley.

“We’re very concerned about the current lake level management and the risks of extreme flooding in the future,” explained OBWB executive director Anna Warwick Sears.

“This is a serious problem we are facing. This is not hype.”

At issue is the current management plan which was designed in the 1970s and doesn’t accommodate for climate change.

READ MORE: Addressing conflicts in Okanagan Lake level management

READ MORE: Okanagan high target for spring flooding

The Okanagan has experienced severe flooding in recent years and recent flood mapping for the valley has signalled that the way the lake is managed needs to change.

The lake level issue was raised by the District of Peachland a few months back and has since been echoed by other valley municipalities.

That, paired with the results shown by the flood mapping, prompted the OBWB letter.

“There is an urgent need to have this review,” the letter states.

“While preparing Okanagan mainstem lakeshore flood maps (published in 2020), Northwest Hydraulic Consultants found that the frequency of flooding would be unacceptably high if the Okanagan Dam at Penticton continued to be operated in the same manner, given the expected increase inflows due to climate change…The technical report for this effort found that as a result of climate change, floods will ‘exceed the capacity of existing infrastructure if operational rules are not adjusted.’

“We are asking the Government of B.C. to, in the next five years, comprehensively review and update the Okanagan Lake Regulation System (OLRS) and its operating plan to prevent damaging floods of increasing severity, while protecting Okanagan fisheries and minimizing the risk of water shortages. We are also asking for the management and control structures of Kalamalka Lake to be formally designated as part of the OLRS, and included in the review.”

Warwick Sears said the water board is asking the plan be expanded to include Kalamalka Lake because it has also been affected by high water levels.

“We know that all the water in this valley is connected. What affects one lakeside community can impact the next,” said Warwick Sears.

“Scientific modelling shows that we are going to experience more precipitation – both rain and snow – but it’s going to be unpredictable.

“At the same time, we’re also at heightened risk for drought because of climate change.

“If we just manage the lake for flooding and draw it down too far, and then have less precipitation than expected in spring and summer, we could create an even greater water shortage.”

Adjusting lake levels can have a significant impact on water availability for agriculture, residential use, and have severe consequences for fish, she added.

The OBWB is recommending that the province work closely with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, as well as affected stakeholders and the public.

“We believe the Okanagan Nation will be important leaders in this given their immense work to bring back sockeye and chinook salmon and the values they place on water,” Warwick Sears said.

The OBWB has initiated a gap analysis, working with the provincial water manager who operates the dam in Penticton, to evaluate completed studies from recent years and determine what additional studies are needed.

A recommended plan of studies will be released in April as well as a recommendation to include public engagement.

“It’s extremely important the public be provided information and be consulted because they will be impacted,” Warwick Sears said.

“How we address lake levels into the future will affect each of us directly.”

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