A rural Oliver homeowner is worried about a Highway 97 washout, with flooding building up at the roadway’s culvert for well over a week.
Flooding in the area around Sportsmens Bowl Road has put nearly 150 homes on evacuation alert from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, and the water keeps coming. It’s flowing right by Arnie Nazaroff’s house, directly across Highway 97 from Sportsmens Bowl Road.
On April 11, the base of the road at the junction with Highway 97 saw some flooding issues. Infrastructure began to crack, with some damage to parts of the road.
The culvert that runs underneath Highway 97 previously had a pool with the surface a couple of metres below the road, and just a pile of dirt stood as a barrier between Sportsmens Bowl Road and Highway 97.
What a difference a week makes.
By April 18, chunks of road were missing, and in some areas of the road — now the banks of rushing creeks — the pavement was sinking at the edges as the water gnaws at the ground that supports it.
At the Highway 97 culvert, the surface was only about half a metre from the highway, which now has concrete barriers in place, blocking the water from rushing into the major transportation route.
That culvert is a worry for Nazaroff, who is already bailing water out of his workshop and his mother’s basement, which sit on the same property.
Across a lane north of Nazaroff’s house, the culvert is letting loose a major flow of water down Park Rill Creek, which looks more like a lagoon at this point.
Nazaroff said he appreciates that the provincial and regional governments were as surprised as anyone by how soon and hard the flooding hit.
“It was never expected to be this bad,” he said.
But what does frustrate him is what he sees as a lack of work being done to keep the highway from being washed away.
“The highway’s in danger of being lost,” he said. “They need to be slightly more proactive than they are, now. Highway 97 is a major corridor for transportation.”
With the water building up on the other side of the highway, at Sportsmens Bowl Road, Nazaroff said the concern is that the ground below the highway is softening as water seeps in.
“They could drill underneath the highway, like they do up north at the rigs, and put in a culvert and relieve some of this problem here,” he said of the water pooling up at the Highway 97 culvert.
“They could do it right now, because the ground on the other side of those folks is still solid. If they wait too long, they won’t have that opportunity.”
Nazaroff noted that there are some major efforts being concerted upstream, particularly around Willowbrook.
“That’s a good thing as well. Everyone needs help. The part that sucks is we are at the bottom. We receive it all,” he said. “There’s not much being done here, and I think that’s what’s frustrating for a lot of folks.”
He acknowledged, however, that a breach of dams or culverts upstream would mean a more dire scenario downstream.
Brandy Maslowski with the RDOS emergency operations centre said there are efforts in place currently to assess the situation with the highway.
“The RDOS has been working hard with emergency pumping crews at Secrest Hill Road (above Sportsmens Bowl) and the level has gone down, so we’re maintaining the safety there,” she said, adding there are efforts underway to try to pump water back into existing creeks.
“The Ministry of Transportation … they have a plan in place to assess whether permanent work can be established. So instead of emergency pumping, they’re looking at permanent fixes.”
She added the weather forecast, with more sun and less precipitation, is looking favourable to the flood mitigation efforts at this point.
The RDOS said the emergency pumping work has reduced the risk of the road failing and releasing a debris flow into downstream properties along Sportsmens Bowl Road. Engineers for the RDOS are working with the province to determine how to divert water flow back into the existing creek path in Sportsmens Bowl.
Information about flooding, how to mitigate damage or prepare for evacuation and where you can find sand or sandbags can be found at the RDOS website’s emergency operations centre page.
Anyone who sees any signs of compromise in the highway is asked to call the ministry’s emergency line at 1-800-663-7623.