Higher than average snowpack leads to flooding concerns in Okanagan Valley

Provincial officials are already drawing down water levels in Okanagan Lake due to 'concerning' snowpack levels in the B.C. Interior.

South Coast, Vancouver Island and the Kootenays all have large accumulations of snow at higher elevations

The B.C. River Forecast Centre says snowpack level in the Okanagan was 131 per cent of normal as of February 1. (Golden and District Search and Rescue)

Provincial officials are already starting to monitor lake levels in hopes of avoiding spring flooding because of 'concerning' snowpack levels in the B.C. Interior.

As of February 1, the snowpack level in the Okanagan was at 131 per cent of normal, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre.

The Similkameen is sitting at 135 per cent of normal. Other areas with higher than average snow accumulations are: the South Coast, Lower Fraser, Skagit, Vancouver Island, East and West Kootenay and Boundary regions. 

"It's probably been some years since we've seen them this high, this early," said Shaun Reimer, section head for public safety and protection with the Ministry of Forests. 

"It's certainly concerning from the perspective that the higher the snowpack, the higher the probability we could get widespread flooding."

'Didn't see it coming' last year

Last year — when much of the Okanagan experienced damaging floods — the February snowpack was only 79 per cent.

But Reimer said residents should not worry when they compare the numbers because he says this year officials are better prepared.

"The real difference between last year and this year ... we didn't see it coming," said Reimer.

"We're actively drawing down in [Okanagan Lake] to make room for the expected water coming in."

Residents of Holiday Park Resort near Kelowna pump water from behind a sandbag wall in 2017. (Christer Waara/CBC)

He said on top of the low snowpack last winter, many areas experienced record-breaking rainfall.

He says his office is feeling added pressure this year from Okanagan residents whose property was damaged as a result of flooding in 2017.

'Never a guarantee'

"Their expectation is we're going to be much more diligent," he said. "They're asking questions like, 'How will you guarantee that the lake won't flood this year?'

"Quite frankly, there's never a guarantee."

Reimer calls the rise of the snowpack in January "quite extraordinary," and says his office will continue to watch how the snowpack develops and alter lake levels accordingly.

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Brady Strachan.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.