“Relentless” and “intense” rainfall in the Okanagan Valley pushed Okanagan Lake to 22 centimetres above full pool, leaving the lake’s gatekeeper on edge as he works to manage water levels.
Shaun Reimer, section head of public safety with the Ministry’s Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, said weekend precipitation raised the lake seven centimetres alone.
“There is a lot of people being impacted now, particularly docks and lawns, but there are some older homes that were built before the flood construction levels were put in place that are impacted now and potentially their basements are seeing water,” he said.
A total of 22-24 millimetres of rain drenched the Okanagan from Friday to Sunday. The “full pool” target is 342.48 metres above sea level and the lake is currently at 342.70 m.
Reimer said prior to the significant rainfall, the lake was plateauing and tributaries were dropping as the high elevation snowpacks tapered off.
“We did lower the lake significantly this year, we knew we had a big snowpack coming in, and we lowered it even more than we had done in 2018 but our ability to get water out, especially in the short term, is limited and I wish we had more ability to get more water out so that we could make shorter-term reactionary decisions better than we do,” he said.
Reimer reassured waterfront property owners that he doesn’t expect the lake to reach levels recorded in 2017 when residents experienced significant shoreline flooding.
“We are just over the level we were in 2018 but more than half a metre below where we peaked in 2017,” he said.
Reimer said outflow decisions are made earlier in the season based on historical weather patterns so his hands are tied when it comes to responding to unexpected and abnormal wet weather.
“There is very little we can do but sit and watch the rain, unfortunately.”
There are several factors Reimer has to consider when managing lake levels, including the impact on fisheries downstream and shoreline erosion.
Reimer also needs to ensure there is enough water in the lake to support the Okanagan’s large agricultural industry, which is why the ministry aims to control the lake at full pool.
“It is to keep the water supply for those fish later in the year, but also the irrigators, particularly in the South Okanagan, I think there is 5,400 acres of vineyards and orchards that draw water from the irrigation canal down in the South Okanagan and there would be a very significant agricultural and economic impact if we were to get down to the point where they struggle with water.”
The City of Kelowna installed a pump at the Water Street boat lunch on Monday due to the “very high lake levels,” which backed up the stormwater system.
Private property owners impacted by high water are encouraged to pump into natural areas such as creeks and ditches to avoid overwhelming the sewers.
Boaters are also asked to keep their speed down when approaching or travelling near the shore to help prevent shoreline erosion.
Reimer said he will be keeping a close eye on the skies as more prolonged, wet weather could spell trouble for the Okanagan.
“I am hopeful that we are going to start drying up now.”