Lake expected to top 917 feet;
second wave of flooding possible

Osoyoos Lake is expected to reach a level of at least 917.00 feet this weekend, even as provincial emergency managers are suggesting BC weather is in a bit of a “holding pattern.”

That should allow property owners, emergency workers and others a brief opportunity to catch their breath before a second wave of water is expected to hit the community.

“We’re definitely expecting with the warming weather that that’s going to ramp up snowmelt rates again,” said Dave Campbell, head of the province’s River Forecast Centre, of a forecasted high pressure system expected to hit the BC Interior early next week.

And, he added, “our modelling is certainly indicating that there’s potential for the Similkameen to come back up again.”

The lake was relatively quiet overnight, at one point between 3:15 and 5:15 a.m. settling at 916.19 feet, as measured by the US Geological Service in Oroville. However, through the morning it continued its advance, increasing to 916.36 feet by noon.

Shaun Reimer, EMBC’s section head of Public Safety and Protection in the Thompson Okanagan, said he believes the lake will exceed 917 feet but added how far it could rise above that is somewhat up to Mother Nature.

“I can certainly see us getting up to 917, which I think is sort of historic in terms of when we’ve had a regulated system,” he said, adding there were reports from the late 19th-century of the lake reaching 919 feet.

“Certainly, it’s a little bit different now in terms of our ability to regulate, although right now nature is really throwing a curve ball at us.”

Mr. Reimer said the inflow of water into the Okanagan River south of Okanagan Falls over the last several weeks is also historic and creating additional headaches for his team.

“It’s been a big struggle. The effects of rain on top of what was already an enhanced melt really surprised us,” he said. He reported he had reduced flow out of the Okanagan Falls Dam by a third as a ”temporary measure” to hold water back from Okanagan and Skaha Lakes.

“The idea was that that would be able to mitigate some of the rainfall issues,” he explained. “Unfortunately, it didn’t really seem to and the tributary inflow that came in from all those creeks along the Okanagan River in the Oliver-Okanagan Falls area and down through Osoyoos ended up contributing more water than we’ve actually ever seen before.”

The system is now having to factor in expected increases in water flow in the north Okanagan — around Kelowna and Vernon — and will likely have to release at least some of that flow into the South Okanagan.

The hope, said Mr. Campbell, is that the province’s snowpack is beginning to reach a “transition point where either we’re at or we’re going to get to a dwindling of that snow.”

With the lake above 916 feet, the Town of Osoyoos is beginning to close roads — either completely or restricting access to local traffic only:

  • Harbour Key Drive is closed to public traffic;
  • Spartan Drive is closed at the marina;
  • Vehicle traffic entering Lakeshore Drive is restricted as the area is being identified as local traffic only.

The Town is also limiting traffic on Cottonwood Drive south of Main Street for access to the town’s boat trailer parking lot, which is now a makeshift sandbagging workspace, and limiting the lot’s Harbour Key access to trucks bringing sand and sandbags.

As bad as conditions are in the community, they pale in comparison to what is occurring in the Boundary region.

In the Christina Lake area, 688 properties are under evacuation order and an additional 380 properties in Grand Forks were also evacuated.

“I understand it was a challenging evening last night,” said Chris Duffy, executive director of programs with Emergency Management BC. “Grand Forks, the downtown area, lost electricity and so that has impacted some residents and businesses that stayed behind.”

The province is also reporting:

  • four of six regional emergency operation centres are currently active;
  • 23 states of local emergency are currently in place;
  • 31 evacuation orders are in effect, affecting 1,993 homes with an additional 930 homes on evacuation alert.
  • 19 local authorities and nine First Nations have emergency operations centres activiated; and,
  • three reception centres are open.

“We’ve deployed more than two million sandbags out to local authorities and First Nations and 10 sandbag machines throughout the Interior,” said Mr. Duffy.

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