The senior engineer behind a mountainside subdivision in Naramata insist it’s not the developer’s responsibility to determine the impact of additional groundwater on lower elevation properties.
Some property owners along Winifred Road and Gammon Road have expressed concern about excess runoff—which they believe is being exacerbated by two new housing developments.
Alex and David Lea moved into their dream retirement home above Gammon Road in 2016.
Last week, their property sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage and the pair were evacuated for five nights after heavy rainfall sent a torrent of mud and debris onto their property.
“I’m upset, I’m angry, and exhausted and I don’t know what to do. Where do you start,” Alex Lea said.
Dabid Lea said it’s not only Mother Nature to blame.
“The new problems with excess groundwater in the area started two years ago which is when the work on the development really started,” he said.
Lyle Armour lives on Winifred Road and has also been dealing with flooding and erosion behind his home.
He said the Outlook subdivision above his property is partially to blame.
“Worst case scenario it’s going to undermine foundations of homes, it’s going to continue as I’ve pointed out for the last year, wash out sections of the KVR,” he said.
Vineyards and orchards are also grappling with excess water.
Lang Vineyards general manager Michael lang is worried what it could mean for the quality of the grapes.
“If it’s constant water on them, the growth is not going to be what we want it to be,” he said.
Lang said there’s no question new development is causing water issues.
“It seems like nobody wants to take responsibility for it and since the development has been happening above us, the water has shifted where it’s been coming down,” Lang said.
WATCH BELOW: Naramata vineyard flooded; landowner blames development
Naramata Benchlands is the developer behind the Outlook subdivision and hired engineering firm McElhanney Consultants to design it.
Senior engineer, Craig Dusel, said surface runoff is routed into storage tanks and released into the ground–which complies with regulations.
“We don’t know either where it goes once it’s introduced into the ground or its impact,” he said.
He said it is not the responsibility of the developer to determine the impact of additional groundwater on properties at lower elevations.
“No, not under our current regulatory regime. It is not the developer’s responsibility,” he said.
“Many years ago a drainage system like this would have been designed to discharge directly to a creek,” Dusel added.
“The science of the day — say twenty years ago — determined that the best practice for development is to reintroduce that water into the ground.”
Dusel said his personal opinion is that the impact of the subdivision to groundwater is “negligible.”
“I wouldn’t say zero correlation. There may well be some correlation and I would, with all due respect to those people because their concerns are very valid, they are very real, is that there are so many other things happening at the same time. In other words, there are too many variables.”
Dusel adds that studies of the groundwater issue would have to encapsulate the entire drainage system of two or three major creeks in the area.
“The study to determine what is happening with groundwater is very extensive and very expensive and nobody would be willing to take that on,” he said.
“The groundwater issue is certainly more wide ranging than a single development. It is beyond community-wide, it would actually be drainage-basin wide.”
The Kettle Ridge Development Corporation (KRDC) is behind the other subdivision in the area.
Director Kelly Sherman said it has made significant investments in storm drainage infrastructure and the system performed well during last week’s rain event.
He said the provincial government and the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) is responsible for improving runoff drainage below the KVR.
The RDOS approves re-zoning applications for such developments.
Chair Karla Kozakevich said the land was approved for residential zoning decades ago.
“I know there may be more coming in the future and we’re going to have to really look at that seriously. Can we have more developments up the mountainside and what will that impact be to the residents below?,” she said.
The provincial government did not directly respond to a question about improving the water drainage system in the area.
A statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said its maintenance contractor responded to the flooding situation by ensuring ditches were cleaned and the water runoff was directed to ensure the protection of infrastructure.