British Columbia·Video

A smelly river runs through it: Vernon couple seeks answers after flood hits property

Fred and Janet Nelson can't quite believe the giant mud pit that has replaced what was once their green and pastoral Vernon property.

Fred Nelson say his 3-acre yard looks like Vimy Ridge after trenches had to be dug to save his house

Vernon flood controversy

CBC News Vancouver at 6

4 years ago
Vernon couple believes a developer is responsible for directing storm water to their now-flooded property 0:33

Fred and Janet Nelson can't quite believe that their once green and pastoral property is now a giant mud pit.

"It looks like Vimy Ridge," said Fred.  

Indeed, deep trenches now line the three-acre plot, freshly dug in an attempt to stave off an incursion of ground water and a surface creek that stared running through the Vernon hillside property two weeks ago, filling their home's crawl space. 

A culvert put in by Boss Creek Development (left) drains onto the land above the Nelsons' house. Water first flows across a neighbour's manure and sawdust pile (right) before hitting their property. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

"The water first flows through our neighbour's and they have a huge pile of sawdust and manure from their horse barns that this creek first flows through before it hits us," said Janet.

"It was very smelly for a couple of days." 

Bone dry for 14 years

The Nelsons say the land has been bone dry for the entire 14 years they've lived there and that the only thing that can explain the sudden flooding is the new Boss Creek Development subdivision being built above them. 

"As part of their plan, they have to provide for storm water runoff and they've been cutting roads way up the hill, opening up natural groundwater drainage areas that are now flowing on the surface," claimed Janet.

Pre-flood Google image of the Nelson's home and property from 2014. (Google)

A newly installed culvert can be seen discharging water above the Nelsons' property, but Boss Creek director Jim Pitre says it's all part of development plans that engineers and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure signed off on.  

"It's a knee jerk reaction by people to say, what's changed? What's happened? It must be the people up the hill causing all the trouble. Well, it's not so," he said. 

Pitre believes the Nelsons' trouble is the result of two factors — months of heavy precipitation which has saturated the ground and the fact that they built on a dry gully. 

'You can't do that'

"I really feel badly for the Nelsons but they built on very porous foundation material which is mostly sand," he said.  And then they built ... right across a major drainage that has been there for hundreds of years. You can't do that and not have problems."

Nelson says estimates to fix the flooding problem run over $150,000. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The Nelsons say they have spent thousands of dollars of their own money so far to save their house. Their insurer pulled out after it was determined some of the flooding was being caused by groundwater incursion.

$150K or more

They've been quoted a figure of more than $150,000 to fully remediate their land.

Pitre says if anyone is to blame, it's those who originally OK'd the Nelson's building plans 14 years ago.

"Whoever it was who designed the house in combination with the North Okanagan Regional District which granted a building permit, they just shrug their shoulders and say, 'Oh well, anything to do with water and drainage and floods, we don't care. We don't regulate it. It's up to the individuals.'"

But Bob Fleming of the North Okanagan Regional District says Boss Creek needs to shoulder some of the blame because incomplete road and drainage work is exacerbating the problem.

"Any property owner doing development, whether a house or a full development, has the obligation not to make the situation worse for the people down slope of them," he said. 

The Nelsons are in the process of hiring a lawyer.