Osoyoos Lake to be raised early in response to potential drought risk
In a stark contrast from last year, officials on both sides of the border are preparing for the potential risk of drought at Osoyoos Lake, which straddles Washington state and British Columbia.
The Washington department of ecology, which regulates the lake levels by opening and closing the gates at the Zosel Dam near Oroville, said it will raise the lake a month early.
“Less than average snow levels are being reported in all watersheds in the region and temperatures are on the rise,” stated a press release.
“Because of this, the agency will raise the lake earlier than usual to avoid water shortages and low flows later in the summer.”
Its goal is to bring the lake to its maximum mandated operational level of 912 feet by early May, rather than by June 1 as usual.
It was a very different story last spring, when Osoyoos experienced near-record flooding.
Floodwaters crept through lakefront residential communities, flooding basements and prompting evacuations.
WATCH (May 2018): Okanagan family’s cherished mementos damaged in Osoyoos flood waters
Osoyoos mayor Sue McKortoff, who also sits on the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control, says one of the board’s responsibilities is to issue drought declarations.
“This lake is at the end of our Okanagan system and it drains into Okanagan River, so because this is a joint commission between the [United States] and Canada, we have to make sure that there is enough water stored here so that the farmers and the people living downstream from us have water, as well,” McKortoff said.
American officials, meanwhile, say snowpack levels are at or lower than the 2015 drought year.
Last year’s extreme flooding was caused by high snowpacks and early runoff.
WATCH (May 2018): About 100 residents attend flood information meeting in Osoyoos
Jay O’Brien is the manager at the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District and carries out directions to lift or lower the dam gates.
Calling himself a “choreographer,” he is tasked with balancing orders and unpredictable weather conditions to get the flows just right.
“At one point last year, all of the gates were opened up to accommodate the excessive flows,” he said.
“At that point we no longer managed the system. We were just spectators.”
But McKortoff says this season, flood fears have dried up.
“All of the scientists say no, so let’s hope we don’t have a flood.”
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