Gov't. fighting flood risk

Colton Davies

With a snowpack level 131 per cent of normal in the Okanagan as of Feb. 1, the province is releasing much more water than usual from the Penticton dam. 

"It doesn't mean that we're going to get flooding, but the probability is higher. So we have to take that into account when we start to schedule our releases," says Shaun Reimer, section head of public safety and protection with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Reimer says 25 to 30 cubic metres of water per second are flowing through the Okanagan Lake dam.

Typically, the dam is at minimal flows this time of year, about five to 10 cubic metres per second.

A higher-than-normal snowpack makes the current response more predictable than a lower snowpack — which was the case last February before near-record rain in the spring caused widespread flooding.

"It's a very different circumstance than last year, when we had such a low snowpack that we really felt like drought conditions were setting up," Reimer said. "This year, we have higher snowpacks, so we're going to be drawing down the lake in anticipation of that higher-than-normal snow melt."

While releasing more water from the lake is a necessity, Reimer said there are implications downstream, such as eroding riverbanks.

He said riverbank protection work will take place next week, as a response from "extreme erosion" that occurred last spring.

"We're probably going to have to drop the flows in Okanagan River temporarily just to get in there." 

Reimer said he's been flooded with emails and phone calls from residents who are concerned about the potential of flooding again.

However, as last year would indicate, he pointed out the real risk of flooding is dependent on weather patterns in March, April and May.

"Yes, the elevated snowpack is concerning, but a lot of what's going to happen is going to be how the water comes down," he said. "How quickly it comes into the lake or how slowly it comes into the lake. That's really going to determine the potential for flooding or the severity of flooding."


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