The Town of Osoyoos yesterday evening brought together a bevy of experts to talk about ongoing flooding in the community.
What residents learned from them was that the South Okanagan community — including those experts — have lots to learn about what might be becoming an annual spring condition.
A condition just as complicated as the oxbow that twists through the valley north of the community.
The up to 150 who gathered last night — including residents from lakefront Harbour Key and Solana Court properties evacuated last week — went home with an expectation the lake could rise another foot or so before the spring freshet is complete and Osoyoos slowly returns to its serene self.
But despite valiant efforts on the part of several of the panel — chief among them engineer Brian Symonds — the science of why appeared to be lost on many of those affected.
Rather, the prevailing sense was of man-made disaster.
When you factor in over-lapping responsibilities — the BC government responsible for dams north of Osoyoos Lake and the US government controlling a dam south of it — an alphabet-soup of provincial and federal ministries governing land and water management in the watershed’s hills and mountains and a Town administration more comfortable with the pedestrian day-to-day management of a resort community, it’s easy to understand why.
All are in uncharted territory — the last major flood of the community occurring in 1972, when most of those now involved were still in school and in some cases diapers.
They might be quite proficient at what they do, but the challenges brought about by this year’s freshet — with a snowpack above 200% and water coursing out of the hills along new channels in the South Okanagan — have delivered a whole new water management ballgame.
If nothing else, this year’s flood should be a lesson, an opportunity to gather and retain information for use in developing strategies and perhaps even making fundamental land and water management changes to mitigate damage in future flood years.
And it’s a lesson that needs to be absorbed very quickly.
There is an uneasy suspicion — after two consecutive seasons of flood threat in the community — that extremely high water in the South Okanagan is becoming the new-normal.
This year, we can blame a changing environment for the soggy conditions with which we are now dealing; next year, if Osoyoos is yet again set to scrambling as a wall of water bears down on the community, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.