The snowpack in the Okanagan is 208 per cent of normal, the highest since 1980.—Image: Thinkstock

The snowpack in the Okanagan is 208 per cent of normal, the highest since 1980.—Image: Thinkstock

Flooding fears grow across B.C.

Flood threat increases in many areas as upper level snowpacks reach record levels

With snowpacks very high in many areas of the province—including the southern Interior where they are more than double the normal accumulations—provincial authorities are bracing for more flooding as warm weather and rain are in the immediate forecast.

“Generally speaking (the snowpack across B.C.) is well above normal,” said Dave Campbell of the B.C. River Forecast Centre Monday in a conference call with reporters Monday.

“There has been melting—even in the upper elevations—at a rapid rate.”

Campbell said while the average B.C. snowpack is 168 per cent above normal, areas such as the Okanagan (208 per cent above normal), the Boundary (238 per cent), the Similkameen (210 per cent), the Nicola (204 per cent) and even the Upper Fraser West area west of Prince George (264 per cent) have seen historic highs. The Okanagan amount is the highest observed since 1980.

“Extremely high snow packs (greater than 150 per cent of normal) in the Nicola, Similkameen, Okanagan, Boundary, Kootenay and Upper Fraser West are indicating significant flood risks this year, and in many of these areas flooding is already occurring,” said the centre in its latest report issued Monday prior to the conference call.

Campbell said in low- to mid-level elevations, snowmelt has been rapid over the last few weeks causing creeks to fill and in some cases flood.

In the Okanagan, in preparation, provincial authorities have been releasing water from Okanagan Lake for the last month fearing a repeat of last year’s flooding when the lake rose to 72 centimetres above what is known as “full pool.”

Shaun Reimer, section head of Public Safety and Protection in the Thompson Okanagan, said while the increased outflow through the damn in Penticton currently has the lake at 62 centimetres below full pool, information he received Monday indicated a lot more water is expected to enter the lake between now and the end of July. And that, he said, could take the lake level to between 12 and 20 centimetres above full pool later this spring.

He said because of concerns with the amount of water flowing into the Okanagan River from tributaries between the dam in Penticton and Oliver, the outflow from Okanagan Lake has been temporarily reduced.

Reimer said that discharge will be ramped up again in a few weeks and to compensate for the current reduction, the outflows will have to be even greater than they were in recent weeks.

With the large amount of snow in the mountains, Reimer said he’s more concerned now then he was a few weeks ago,but predicted the area will not see the same situation as last year given the water that has already been released from Okanagan Lake.

Meanwhile, other areas of the province are also a concern for authorities. The Nicola Lake near Merritt is approaching full pools and areas of the Kootenay and around Prince George could be at the risk of flooding mid- and high-level snow melts quickly with the warm weather.

A total of 13 regional emergency operations centres have been opened across the province, with B.C. First Nations opening 10 more said Chris Duffy, executive director of programs with Emergency Management BC. Seventeen states of local emergency have been declared in municipalities and regional districts across B.C. in addition to eight by B.C. aboriginal bands band councils. Twenty-one evacuation alerts affecting 187 homes have been issued as well as 22 evacuation alerts affecting 555 homes.

Duffy said two million sandbags have been distributed across the province and several sandbag filing machines are now in use across B.C, many of them in the Okanagan.The province has even borrowed some from Saskatchewan.

One hundred and fifty B.C. Wildfire firefighters have been deployed to help and a kilometre of gabian dam and 10 kilometres of tiger dam have also been provided to B.C. communities for flood prevention.

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