British Columbia

How the City of Kelowna, the B.C. government and homeowners are preparing for flooding this spring

The City of Kelowna, the B.C. government and property owners are all preparing for potential flooding in what is expected to be one of the largest spring run-offs for the Okanagan region in recent years.

The Okanagan region has the largest snow pack in recent years at 152% of normal

City of Kelowna crews dredging Mill Creek to remove sediment and vegetation ahead of the spring run-off (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The City of Kelowna, the B.C. government and property owners are preparing for what is expected to be one of the largest spring run-offs for the Okanagan region in recent years.

According to the B.C. River Forecast Centre, at the start of the month the region had a snow pack of 152 per cent of normal levels.

It's been more than two decades since the Okanagan had an accumulation of snow that heavy in April.

"If we get a heavy or intense rainstorm on top of the snow pack during very warm weather, that would be the very worse case scenario," said Alan Newcombe, the infrastructure divisional director with the City of Kelowna.

"That is exactly what happened last year at the beginning of May."

Marshall Street in Kelowna, one of several streets underwater from flooding in 2017. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Last spring, dozens of properties were flooded after a normally slow, meandering creek spilled its banks during a period of heavy rain.

That event started a flooding crisis in Kelowna that lasted for more than a month after Okanagan Lake filled up to its highest level on record, inundating public and private lands along the lakeshore.

The B.C. government and the City of Kelowna are determined not to let that happen again this year.

The city has begun work to remove sediment out of creeks, particularly from Mill Creek, which is prone to flooding and runs through several neighbourhoods.

"We'll dredge the bottom of the creek channel and then increase the capacity, but just as importantly, remove vegetation from the channel that slows the flow down and makes the creeks jump out of their banks," Newcombe said.

The province is lowering Okanagan Lake to create extra capacity for the spring run-off. 

"The last time the lake was purposefully this low was 1999, which was another very high snow pack year," said Shaun Reimer, who manages the level of Okanagan Lake.

Provincial forestry workers set up sandbags to help prevent flooding at a home in Kelowna, B.C., in May 2017. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

This week, 40 forestry firefighters will arrive in Kelowna to build sandbag dikes and lay down bladder dams in areas prone to flooding.

Homeowners are preparing their properties.

Kris Stewart suffered $15,000 in damage in 2017 when Mill Creek flooded into her yard and basement.

She has contacted friends who can help her build a sandbag wall around her home, if the creek floods again this spring.

"The other mitigation measures that I have also taken is to move my major appliances in the basement up off the floor by a foot and a half," Stewart said.

Stewart and her neighbours have started a social media page to help keep each other informed about the spring run-off and the flood risk.

Kelowna residents fill sandbags in May 2017. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

"It's definitely a topic," said Randy Barthel who also lives near Mill Creek and spent much of May last year building sandbag walls to protect homes in his neighbourhood.

"We are a year removed from [the flooding last year] and we are all looking at each other going, 'are we going to do this again?' We sure hope not." 

The city expects water from the spring melt to start flowing through creeks and into Okanagan Lake in about two to four weeks.

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan