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Early spring freshet, low snowmelt-related flood risk in the Okanagan

The Okanagan snowpack level is at 72 per cent of normal as of April 1, according to the latest statistics. Global News

Due to extremely dry conditions and warm temperatures, the spring freshet has arrived early in the B.C. Interior.

According to the latest data released by the B.C. River Forecast Centre, the early-April streamflow is two to four weeks ahead of normal.

“In low and mid-elevations hot weather led to snowpack ripening and early season snowmelt,” the snow survey and water supply bulletin says.

READ MORE: Low snowpack levels in Okanagan, Boundary, Similkameen regions

“In the BC Interior, warm temperatures have led to the early onset of freshet, and rivers have been receiving snowmelt runoff.”

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Summerland discusses flood mitigation work following property damage in spring – Nov 14, 2018

Snowpacks in the Okanagan-Similkameen-Boundary regions remain below average.

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The Okanagan snow basin is 72 per cent of normal, and the Boundary and Similkameen snowpack’s are 65 per cent of normal.

That means the flood risk related to snowmelt is low, unlike the 2018 flood year when snowpacks were well above normal levels.

READ MORE: Despite a snowy winter, concerns have shifted from flooding to drought in B.C.

“With below normal snowpack in most regions, reduced flood risk is expected,” the bulletin says.

However, the River Forecast Centre notes variable weather patterns could still cause flooding in the B.C. Interior.

“While snow is one significant aspect to seasonal flooding in BC, weather during the freshet season also plays a key role, and flooding is possible in years with near normal or low snowpack,” it says.

READ MORE: Okanagan snowpack continues to increase

Heavy precipitation and either short-duration events or prolonged periods of wet weather could still cause flooding.

The Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary regions experienced significant flood events over the past two years.

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Shaun Reimer is the section head for public safety and protection with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. He controls how much water is released from Okanagan Lake at the Penticton dam.

“Right now we’re thinking more that we are going to struggle to fill the lake and so we took steps to reduce the outflow by alittle bit,” he said on Monday.

“Last year we had a really high snowpack, so I was certainly drawing down the lake as much as we could in anticipation of all of the water that was going to be coming in,” Reimer said.

“It’s almost an opposite situation right now. We’re close to 2015 and the situation then, when we had a very low snowpack and we struggled to get the lake up as high as we wanted to, to provide water for fish, irrigators, recreation, etc., later on in the summer.”

Whether or not the Okanagan will experience flood or drought in 2019 will depend on the rains in May and June, Reimer said.

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