The flood situation in the South Okanagan and Boundary regions has dominated the news for the past month and the news seems to get more serious by the day.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and many have lost everything — houses, vehicles, land.
Last Friday and Saturday I drove from Penticton to Trail and back and was able to visit some of the hardest hit areas. I started in Okanagan Falls, where Shuttleworth Creek had jumped its banks, flowed through a farm field and into a neighbourhood.
Farther south I stopped at Sportsmens Bowl Road in north Oliver. There, Park Rill, normally a rather small stream, created an entirely new course over a month ago and has turned the road into a raging watercourse. A new culvert had to be built under Highway 97, beaver dams removed farther downstream, and several pumping stations now move water over roads and dykes to assist overwhelmed culverts.
Kettle River flow measured just south of the US border yesterday showing rain event peak and projected ( in pink) steady rise with melt. pic.twitter.com/jM1huHOrEz
— Richard Cannings (@CanningsNDP) May 12, 2018
As I approached Osoyoos Lake I was surprised to see open water about a kilometre north of the normal shoreline. After crossing the bridge on Highway 3 I could see that homes and even hotels and motels on the shoreline were flooded to varying degrees — many severely.
Osoyoos Lake is somewhat unusual when it come to spring flooding. At the south end of the lake, in Oroville, WA, there is a dam to regulate the level of Osoyoos Lake, and just downstream from that the larger Similkameen River flows in from the west to join the Okanagan.
The Similkameen River is in flood now and at these times of high flow, it overwhelms the Okanagan River so that the latter flows north over the dam and back into Osoyoos Lake. This effectively bottles up the outlet of Osoyoos Lake and any flow from the north starts to bring the water level up. A similar situation exists at Christina Lake, where the Kettle River is now flowing back up into Christina Creek and blocking outflow from the lake.
As I write this, Osoyoos Lake is within a foot of its record level set in 1972. High temperatures through the coming week are predicted to bring the Similkameen to record levels, and Osoyoos Lake could easily exceed historic levels.
The Okanagan situation is very serious, but it was the Kettle River that caused catastrophic damage late last week. Properties, homes and buildings have been impacted from Westbridge east to Christina Lake. All the low-lying parts of Grand Forks, including much of the downtown core, were flooded. Whole neighbourhoods have been devastated. While waters receded somewhat in the Kettle over the weekend, they will almost surely rise again through the week.
On Friday I visited the emergency operations centre in Grand Forks. They are working around the clock to manage the complex and serious situation in the Boundary District. I’ve been in touch with Minister Goodale’s office in Ottawa to make sure federal assistance is ready as soon as the province requests it. That request could come soon, as Mike Farnworth, the provincial minister in charge of emergency operations, is visiting the area.
Federal assistance could come in many forms, including manpower to relieve exhausted work crews, emergency social and health supplies, or infrastructure funding during the rebuilding process.
Community spirit remains strong and the work of volunteers and first responders has been truly inspiring. This is not over, and there will be difficult days and weeks ahead. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their homes or livelihoods in the past few days and weeks.
Richard Cannings is a member of the NDP and the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding MP. Cannings is also the critic for post-secondary education and critic for natural resources.