Flooding fears replaced with drought concerns

It might be a longer walk to the water this year with drought expectations beginning to form.

Mayor Sue McKortoff delivered a cheerful prediction last week — there likely would be no flooding in Osoyoos this year.

According to provincial experts, she’s probably right — and then some.

“The board of control is suggesting that this will be what they call a drought year,” she reported last Monday based on conversations with the international board that controls water levels in the Okanagan valley.

“It’s not being left to guess. There are a lot of people involved who are trying to make the best decisions.”

Her estimate was confirmed by the province’s River Forecast Centre, which is suggesting the Okanagan is facing an extremely early snowmelt, causing concerns for a summer drought.

“We’re trending towards (an) extremely early melt, maybe even pushing historically early . . . on the order of four weeks ahead of normal,” said Dave Campbell, who heads the forecast centre.

As of April 1, the snowpack in the Okanagan was at 72% of normal. Last year at this time, the snowpack was at 152% of normal.

The average snowpack across the province on April 1 was 79% of normal.

Typically, snow accumulation reaches maximum levels in mid-April.

“Some of these lower elevation sites have been melting for a couple of weeks,” said Mr. Campbell.

“If this trend continues, then we’ll be out of snow early, and that can put more pressure on as we go into the summer for the water supply,” said Campbell.

The low snowpack has been driven by the dry weather seen in February and March, and the heat wave at the end of last month.

“We haven’t seen the snowpack develop in the same way it normally would,” said Mr. Campbell. “The amount of water that comes from the snow will be dried up by the time we come to summer.”

While the low snowpack increases the risk of drought, it decreases the risk of flooding, which has hit the Okanagan the last two years.

“The amount of water we have coming from the snow is much less this year,” said Mr. Campbell. “The risks associated with snow . . . are much diminished this year when it comes to flooding.”

However, if the Okanagan experiences extreme rainfall this spring, flooding is still a possibility, he said.

“Even in years where we have not a lot of snow around, that seasonal risk for flooding is still there, but it’s shifted toward the rainfall.”

Residents who have experienced flooding in the past should be prepared, regardless of the snowpack levels, said Mr. Campbell.

Local information on Osoyoos lake levels is available on the Town of Osoyoos website — osoyoos.ca — by clicking the Lake Levels link at the top of the home page.

— with files from the Penticton Herald

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