FROM THE HILL: Seeing flood devastation up close and personal

FROM THE HILL: Seeing flood devastation up close and personal

South Okanagan - West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings. (Richard McGuire photo)

By Richard Cannings, MP

Special to the Chronicle

All the flood situations in the South Okanagan and Boundary regions have dominated the news for the past month and the news seems to get more serious by the day. 

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and many have lost everything—houses, vehicles, land.

Last Friday and Saturday I drove from Penticton to Trail and back and was able to visit some of the hardest hit areas. I started in Okanagan Falls, where Shuttleworth Creek had jumped its banks, flowed through a farm field and into a neighbourhood. 

Farther south I stopped at Sportsmen’s Bowl Road in Oliver.  There, Park Rill, normally a rather small stream, created an entirely new course over a month ago and has turned the road into a raging watercourse.  A new culvert had to be built under Highway 97, beaver dams removed farther downstream, and several pumping stations now move water over roads and dikes to assist overwhelmed culverts. 

As I approached Osoyoos Lake I was surprised to see open water about a kilometre north of the normal shoreline. After crossing the bridge on Highway 3 I could see that homes and even hotels and motels on the shoreline were flooded to varying degrees—many severely.

Osoyoos Lake is somewhat unusual when it comes to spring flooding. At the south end of the lake, in Oroville, WA, there is a dam to regulate the level of Osoyoos Lake, and just downstream from that the larger Similkameen River flows in from the west to join the Okanagan.

The Similkameen River is in flood now and at these times of high flow, it overwhelms the Okanagan River so that the latter flows north over the dam and back into Osoyoos Lake.  This effectively bottles up the outlet of Osoyoos Lake and any flow from the north starts to bring the water level up. A similar situation exists at Christina Lake, where the Kettle River is now flowing back up into Christina Creek and blocking outflow from the lake.

As I write this, Osoyoos Lake is within a foot of its record level set in 1972.  High temperatures through the coming week are predicted to bring the Similkameen to record levels, and Osoyoos Lake could easily exceed historic levels. 

The Okanagan situation is very serious, but it was the Kettle River that caused catastrophic damage late last week. Properties, homes and buildings have been impacted from Westbridge east to Christina Lake. All the low-lying parts of Grand Forks, including much of the downtown core, were flooded.  Whole neighbourhoods have been devastated. 

While waters receded somewhat in the Kettle over the weekend, they will almost surely rise again through the week.

On Friday I visited the emergency operations centre in Grand Forks. They are working around the clock to manage the complex and serious situation in the Boundary District. I’ve been in touch with Minister Goodale’s office in Ottawa to make sure federal assistance is ready as soon as the province requests it. That request could come soon, as Mike Farnworth, the provincial minister in charge of emergency operations, is visiting the area.

Federal assistance could come in many forms, including manpower to relieve exhausted work crews, emergency social and health supplies, or infrastructure funding during the rebuilding process.

Community spirit remains strong and the work of volunteers and first responders has been truly inspiring. 

This is not over, and there will be difficult days and weeks ahead. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their homes or livelihoods in the past few days and weeks. 


  1. Mr. Canning:

    You spent I don’t know how much time describing what we have all been witnessing for many weeks now. Please don’t attempt to get us to believe that you care enough to actually do something about it. Sounded an awful lot like political double speak to me…
    Tell us what actions will be implemented immediately to correct the drainage problems in the southern Okanagan valley.
    The RDOS mission statement from 2006 highlighted the problems that were upon us then and are now really riding high up on our backs. Very explicitly, the issue of storm drainage, global warming and increased population that would be impacting the hydro/drainage issues in the Okanagan; they were correct. So far nothing has been done and the result has been the millions of dollars that have been spent on trying to mitigate the damage across every road that has an undersized culvert.

    You need to quit talking and start doing. Everyone in the valley understands the problems and is capable of making very viable suggestions for solving those issues. Why cannot those that are involved in the planning make the right moves?

    Michael Guthrie

    Oliver, BC