Skip to main content

When high water levels throughout Interior British Columbia caused widespread flooding and evacuations last year, the main public road into Darryl Racine’s property washed away, cutting off access to his property.

His house wasn’t damaged, but he’s determined to avoid a repeat this year, as high amounts of snowmelt have again caused flooding and put homes at risk. Mr. Racine’s property near Nicola Lake, northeast of Merritt, was placed under an evacuation alert over the weekend, he said.

“That’s just making the residents in our little area here aware that the flood risk could change at any time. We got to have everything ready to go if it gets any worse,” Mr. Racine said.

“We have made a road up and around the hillside here so we can get out, if we have to.”

Local states of emergency have been declared in the cities of Kelowna, West Kelowna and Peachland, while 70 homes in the Thompson Nicola Regional District were placed under an evacuation order after weekend flooding.

“It allows us to proactively respond to protect public infrastructure by allowing us access to private property,” said Karen Miller, public information officer at Central Okanagan’s Emergency Operations Centre.

This past winter, B.C. had some of the highest snowpacks in the province’s history, resulting in a rapid snowmelt that is now causing high streamflows in local creeks and increased groundwater levels.

In several areas of the province, the snowpack is more than 150 per cent of its normal rate, including the Okanagan, where it was measured at 206 per cent, according to B.C. River Forecast Centre. It’s one of the highest rates seen since the recording of snowpacks began in the 1980s.

Last year, extremely high water flows into Okanagan, Nicola and Kalamalka Lakes, caused widespread flooding in the province, forcing more than 2,500 people from their homes and threatening thousands more with evacuation alerts.

In preparation for this year’s spring runoff, local officials implemented several measures to mitigate the risks of flooding, including maintaining low levels in Okanagan Lake and removing debris from creeks. Ms. Miller said that the Okanagan Lake is currently about 66 centimetres from a full pool.

“It’s significantly better than it was last year,” she said.

Emergency officials will be watching the weather closely as it’s expected to rain starting on Wednesday night and into Thursday, she said.

“Much preparation work has been done on anything we can predict so that’s great. The weather [impact] is a factor we cannot predict,” she said.

She encouraged all households across the province to have an emergency plan in place, especially if their house is in a low-lying area, by a creek and prone to cyclical flooding.

An independent report assessing last year’s flood response concluded provincial and local officials responded effectively but pointed to understaffing and problems with training at the River Forecast Centre, which predicts river flows and manages water levels at several dams.

That report made 65 recommendations for the province, including better training. At the time, the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations said it had already started implementing some of those recommendations.

Interact with The Globe