British Columbia

Canada's only desert town fighting back rapidly rising floodwaters

Over the last 24 hours, the level on Osoyoos Lake has risen dramatically — some say by well over a foot.

Osoyoos locals say the water level is going up faster than they've ever seen in the past

Kyle Tye is still managing to smile despite the shin-deep water surrounding his family's home. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

It may be Canada's only desert town, but that's not stopping floodwaters from inundating Osoyoos.

Over the last 24 hours, the level on Osoyoos Lake has risen dramatically — some say by well over a foot — flooding low lying streets, homes and basements and triggering a state of local emergency.

The entire length of Harbour Key Drive in Osoyoos is under water. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Stephen Tye has lived in Osoyoos since 1971. He describes the situation as "amazing."

"That's the thing that makes this flood different than in past years, just the rate of change."

Osoyoos resident Stephen Tye says he is grateful for the volunteers and forest workers who are bagging sand. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Tye has been sandbagging around his place since Thursday. He says the volunteers and forestry workers who are pre-bagging the sand are a godsend.

"It's been an incredible help. We already had two feet of water in our crawl space, so that allowed me to block where it was coming in and pump it out," said Tye. 

A state of local emergency was declared in Osoyoos on Thursday with evacuations issued in a number of neighbourhoods. 

Volunteers in Osoyoos fill sandbags. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

In addition, the town has ordered people to stop pumping flood or groundwater into the sewer using sump pumps or other devices for fear the system will breakdown.

At Danny Tarasewich's home, sandbagging isn't helping much, because the water is seeping in through the foundation. 

"They're figuring another foot and a half to two feet, so it will take it up pretty high," he said. "All we can do is wait for the water to go down and then start repairs."

Friends and family of Harman Cheema help build a sandbag wall to protect his Osoyoos home. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Down the road in Osoyoos, residents of low lying areas are also madly sandbagging around their homes.

"It's really stressful," said Harman Cheema. "So far, no water in our basement but maybe through the night, so I'm starting with the sandbags."

According to the body that controls the downstream flow of water out of Osoyoos Lake at the Zosel Dam, the rising water is due to "a backwater effect from high flow on the Similkameen River, which is restricting outflow from Osoyoos Lake. 

A truck delivering sandbags drives down a flooded Osoyoos street. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

"As of May 1, the Okanagan Basin snowpack reached 206 per cent of normal," the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control said in a statement. "The gates at Zosel Dam have been fully open since March 26."

The news release noted the highest water level recorded on the lake since regulation began was 917.11 feet (280 metres) in June of 1972. 

"The maximum water level that will be reached on Osoyoos Lake during the 2018 freshet is difficult to predict due to its dependence on changing weather conditions and resulting rates of snowmelt," said the statement.

With files from Brady Strachan