It’s been just over a week since Steven Rice was allowed to return to his home along Highway 8 in British Columbia’s Interior, and the river that forced him to evacuate six months ago is surging again.
Mr. Rice’s home near Spences Bridge, B.C., was covered by one of several flood watches across the province this weekend, as heavy rains combined with warming weather and threatened to push some rivers over their banks.
“It’s a raging mass of muddy brown water that’s just gone wild,” Mr. Rice, an electoral area director for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said of the Nicola River bordering his property.
The river had risen about a foot and a half in 24 hours, he said, while his neighbour’s truck was trapped between two mudslides.
For Mr. Rice, it was a surreal but familiar sight. The area was among the worst hit by historic flooding in November, which came on the heels of wildfires that charred the hillsides, accelerating mudslides and pushing whole sections of the highway into the river.
Authorities said the risk of flooding has dropped in the southern Interior but is rising in the province’s north thanks to changing weather conditions.
The River Forecast Centre issued a new flood watch for the Liard River and its tributaries Sunday, including areas around the community of Fort Nelson and Highway 97 toward Watson Lake.
Steady warming last week led to more snowmelt and runoff in rivers in northern and central B.C., it said, while a storm system added rain to rivers.
More rain that was expected Sunday and Monday for the Bulkley Valley and Skeena regions could cause rivers there to swell, while the Liard was also set to keep rising, the forecast centre said.
But it said the danger has lessened in the eastern Okanagan and Boundary regions, where flood watches have been downgraded to high streamflow advisories.
The forecast centre said that while local storms may affect river systems in the area, significant rises are not forecast at this time.
“Broadly speaking, hydrologic forecasts through the region for the next few days indicate steady or falling streamflow levels, with the provision that smaller systems could see a larger response than forecast due to local convective precipitation that is difficult to forecast,” it said.
A low pressure system brought challenging weather and waves of moderate to heavy rainfall across the southern Interior Friday and into Saturday, the forecast centre said.
The storm led to some local downpours, especially in areas around Merritt and into the headwaters of the Nicola River, which was the source of some of the most severe flooding last year.
While more rain was in the forecast as of Sunday, it was not expected to be as heavy as Friday and Saturday, and smaller rivers in the southern Interior have already peaked, it said.
The areas covered by the flood risk downgrade include Mission Creek and its tributaries east of Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and surrounding areas in the eastern Okanagan; the West Kettle River and surrounding tributaries; and Spius Creek and the Lower Nicola River.
A new flood watch was also issued Sunday for the Dean River in the Fraser plateau.
Flood watches are the second level in a three-level warning system used by the forecast centre and they mean river levels are rising and will approach or spill over the tops of their banks.
A flood warning, which is the most serious level of warning, was not in effect Sunday afternoon for any area of B.C., however the forecast centre has warned that some rivers may peak next week.
Dozens of residents across British Columbia remained on evacuation alert, including in areas around Terrace and Smithers, meaning they were asked to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice should conditions worsen.
Lorne Benson, a town councillor in Smithers, said seven properties along the Bulkley were under an evacuation alert on the weekend and volunteers were bringing sandbags to those who want them.
“We’re anxiously waiting to see what’s going to happen with the water levels,” Mr. Benson said.
“As long as the rainfall doesn’t increase immediately, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that things should be okay, but our real concern is the prolonged cool spring and the longer accumulation of snow at higher elevations.”
The City of Terrace, along the Skeena, installed Tiger dams as both a training exercise for city crews and a preventive measure ahead in case of flooding.
The city also completed an assessment of critical infrastructure in low-lying areas to determine where the dams and gabion baskets, received from Emergency Management B.C. last week, should be installed, it said in a public notice.
Modelling suggested the flood risk in the region was on track to peak Wednesday, it said.
“Staff will continue to monitor at-risk areas throughout the weekend and will be ready to scale up the response if needed,” the notice said.
Residents in at-risk areas were encouraged to sandbag their properties and members of the public were advised to steer clear of riverbanks.
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