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Penticton  

Dam boss open to review

While politicians and residents call for a review of how Okanagan Lake levels were handled this spring, the man who makes those decisions says it was going to happen anyway.

“After any extreme event, be it wildfire, be it a flood year or drought year, when all is said and done, we go back and we look and go over our decisions,” said Shaun Reimer, public safety and protection section head with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Okanagan Lake remains at record levels, and fingers are being pointed in Reimer's direction.

Was the dam opened soon enough? Could something have been done to avoid this episode of high water?

Reimer relies on snowpack data, weather forecasts and inflow predictions from the B.C. River Forecast Centre. As an engineer, he says it would be nice to have more robust data, but states he doesn’t think it would have helped avert flooding.

With winter snowpack data indicating a possible drought, he says the constant rain began to make him nervous in the middle of April.

While flood prevention is paramount while operating the dam, Reimer says he tries to juggle fisheries needs, allowing sockeye salmon eggs to mature enough before he sends a torrent of water downstream.

“In that April period, we were waiting for the sockeye to get to that stage where we could wash them down to Osoyoos Lake, but I actually told them 'we can’t wait,'” Reimer said. “We certainly didn’t wait that long, so the third week of April we really started ramping up our flows to beyond design capacity of the Okanagan Channel.”

Even if he had opened the dam a full week earlier, the lake would be about 12 centimetres below what it is right now, still high enough to cause havoc along the waterfront.

This year broke all the models, says Reimer. It was Mother Nature at work. Because of that, he’s not worried about a possible upcoming review.

“All I can do is present the same kind of numbers and data we had available during the times I made those decisions.”

This year’s snowpack data came in at 79 per cent in February, 86 per cent in March and 105 per cent in April.

“Last year, we were at 121 per cent, 122 per cent and 133 per cent on those same days, and there was no problem. The difference this year was the rain,” he said.

“We have a lot of data that is showing the kind of record-setting events that those were… so if there is a review, I’ll present those numbers.”

Inflows into Okanagan Lake in May clocked in 240 per cent higher than normal this year.

Watch Castanet for more from our interview with Reimer.

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