By Lyonel Doherty
While all is quiet on the Willowbrook front, Area C alternate director Rick Knodel fears the worst is still to come.
Spring runoff hasn’t even started yet, so the community that is under a state of emergency is bracing itself for more water woes.
In the meantime, however, the situation has much improved since a section of Meyers Road was removed last week. This increased the water flow along Kearns Creek that was previously restricted by an inadequate culvert.
On Carr Crescent, a pump was installed to increase water flow while decreasing the pool of standing water in Willowbrook.
“We’re holding our own at the moment,” said Knodel on Monday.
He said removing that section of Meyers Road was necessary and a step in the right direction to have an immediate effect on the flooding situation.
“You could watch the water (level) drop noticeably,” he said.
Knodel said the pump on Carr Crescent is also paramount. He noted that when the pump is shut down for refueling, you can literally see the water level rising in the creek again.
Knodel said he knows of at least one house that is starting to see flooding in the basement, but a sump pump is keeping ahead of it.
The regional district advises homeowners to monitor their basements and move all valuables off the floor to prepare for the upland snow melt.
“Our only protection is God, and he tends to laugh when you tell him your plans,” Knodel said.
Additional locations for sand and bags have been made available at the Willowbrook fire hall, Johnson Crescent, Sportsmen’s Bowl Road, Park Rill (7365 Knight Road), Island Way (7165 Island Way Road), and the Oliver fire hall.
Willowbrook resident Brenda Boye has been organizing volunteers to help fill sandbags in that community. For more information, call 250-498-6999.
Paul Edmonds from the region’s Emergency Operations Centre said volunteers continue to do an amazing job protecting homes, structures and property in the area.
Edmonds reported that the Kearns Creek dam (a.k.a. Pringle dam) has been lowered significantly, which has reduced concerns in the area.
But Knodel said water is turning up in places where people have never seen it before, such as in their driveways.
Local resident Walter Pshyk said the water started backing up in his yard last week, and if it wasn’t for all the community support, the situation would be a lot worse today.
“There would have been a lot of wet feet,” Knodel said, noting a recent work party saved a lot of crawlspaces from flooding.
Jim Stanley, another resident who’s been filling sandbags, said the problem stemmed from inaction on the part of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure that wasn’t maintaining culverts properly. He said something should have been done to address the problem after last year’s flooding.
But the ministry told the Chronicle a different story. In an email, the ministry said it has responded to the recent high water flows and continues to monitor and work on the site as necessary.
“The culverts have been well maintained. They were cleaned following last year’s events and are currently running at full capacity without restrictions.”
The ministry has commissioned a hydrologist report following last year’s flooding in Willowbrook. This report is specific to the Kearns Creek crossing location.
“The hydrologist’s report has just recently been received; staff are reviewing recommendations,” the ministry stated.
The regional district will be looking at options from a hydrologist to move water through the area. It has also received funding from Emergency Management BC to do a 2018 flood risk assessment.
But last week Stanley said residents couldn’t wait much longer under the threat.
That’s why he called the ministry to ask permission to remove the pavement from Meyers Road, which is now closed.
“We proceeded to do this by hand to pick away at the cracked pavement. It released the flow of water within about 15 minutes to start dropping water levels drastically.”
Stanley said the pump on Carr Crescent has worked tremendously, which has allowed Kearns Creek to run its original course. Volunteers realigned the sandbags much tighter to the creek banks to keep the flow in the creek.
Stanley said the ministry provided an excavator to finally dig out the 20-inch culvert on Meyers Road to improve the water flow.
While Stanley appreciates the ministry coming to the table in the “dying” moments, he is “really disappointed” that the government didn’t respond to the community’s requests in the fall of 2017.
“It’s tiring and something that could have been avoided if we had just received a little help and instruction five or six months ago.”
Stanley said government still needs to remedy the issue of new culverts in five locations in Willowbrook. This includes Goldtau Road, which needs major attention, he pointed out.
“Meyers Flats needs to be excavated to re-establish the creek bed.”
Neighbour June Reynolds on Carr Crescent was flooded out last year and doesn’t want to deal with more devastation this year.
“I don’t have flood insurance and I’m a widow with no help.”
But her heart was warmed when she saw how many people came out to help fill and deploy sandbags.
“Willowbrook has always been a tight community,” she noted.
Reynolds was taken aback when people from outside the area brought food, such as soup and buns.
“It was incredible,” she said.
Local firefighter Kyle Fossett showed up at 6:45 p.m. and stayed until after midnight.
He noted that a number of people who came to help were from homes that weren’t even affected by the flood hazard.
In addition to Oliver and Okanagan Falls, four members of the Keremeos Fire Department showed up with another 6,000 sand bags loaded on their bush truck.
If not for all of this help, it would have been a different story that morning.
Knodel said the effort he saw brought him close to tears, particularly seeing local youth lending a hand.
Meanwhile, above Willowbrook, large siphon hoses are draining water from Pringle dam, which has been close to cresting.
Area C director Terry Schafer said this is where much of the floodwaters are coming from.
“The dam was reaching a critical height and ready to crest. If that reservoir ever let go, Willowbrook would be wiped off the map.”
Schafer calls this siphoning measure a “necessary evil” as the dam is being decommissioned due to its liability.
Meanwhile in Oliver, flooding has resulted in the closure of Sumac Street just past Old Golf Course Road. The water there has dug its own jagged trench towards one house on Sunflower Road, where sandbags are diverting the water into an orchard.
Rob Zandee, president of Fairview Mountain Golf Club, said they have seen tremendous results from volunteers helping clean up the impact of last week’s mudslide on the third hole.
Zandee said the slide material has been removed thanks to golf course crews and an “amazing turnout” of volunteers.
A course reopening date is expected this week.