International authority that monitors Osoyoos Lake levels acquires new tools to prevent flooding

It was a natural disaster that Osoyoos residents are still recovering from.

Near record-high levels in Osoyoos Lake in the spring of 2018 led to flooding and widespread destruction in the South Okanagan town.

On Tuesday night, dozens of local residents attended an annual public meeting hosted by the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control, an authority made up of Canadian and American representatives, as the lake spans both sides of the border.

“We have an international Osoyoos Lake Board of Control, which monitors how the dam is operated because the dam, Zosel dam in Oroville, impacts lake levels on both sides of the border,” said Brian Symonds, a director with the Osoyoos Lake Board of Control.

It’s a critical partnership that relies on international cooperation.

“To make sure they each know what each other is doing, so they don’t end up making a change that adversely affects either party,” Symonds said.

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While this year there were more fears of a drought than flooding, residents were anxious to learn more about dam decisions that affect lake levels and, in turn, the entire town.

“Yeah, it can hurt the economics of the community, it can hurt individuals,” Osoyoos resident Birgit Arnstein said.

While conditions dictate whether to release water from the lake or not, experts say it’s not always that simple.

“The big wildcard every year is what is the weather going to do, especially in the months of April, May, June and July,” Symonds said. “You can forecast it, you can do what you want, but it’s always got a high degree of uncertainty in that.

“The amount in the snowpacks, we measure regularly throughout the winter, we know how that’s developing but we always have got to say how is that going to melt and how is that going to combine with any precipitation that may come in the meantime.”

To try and mitigate those wildcard factors, the international authority is looking at better ways to collect data to help make decisions, as well as getting more information out to the public.

That includes a webcam that’s now been installed at the Zosel dam so that people can see what’s going on site.

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“We are also looking at doing some new modeling to improve some of our understanding of some of the natural characteristics, the impact of the Similkameen on lake levels in Osoyoos, how that relates to the flows coming down from the Canadian side,” Symonds said.

Those tools, says Symods, are vital given the climate’s uncertainty.

“We are always trying to improve our knowledge and understanding and our ability to learn from that especially as we move forward with this area perhaps with greater uncertainty around what the climate is going to do and how that may influence what we do in the future,” he said.