British Columbia

Flood warnings downgraded in B.C. as conditions ease but 'extraordinarily high' snowpacks remain

The news brings some relief for communities from Quesnel to Williams Lake and south to Cache Creek, but local governments are maintaining numerous evacuation orders and alerts issued since waters began to rise.

Evacuation orders, alerts remain in parts of Central Interior; experts say wildfires partly to blame

A rancher wades through water in the Cariboo region as snow melt causes rivers to exceed their banks in April, 2020. (Loreen McCarvill)

Flood warnings have been reduced across much of British Columbia's Central Interior as cooler weather eases the rate of snowmelt.

The B.C. River Forecast Centre has downgraded warnings to flood watches for the Chilako River southwest of Prince George and for waterways in the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions.

The news brings some relief for communities from Quesnel to Williams Lake and south to Cache Creek, but local governments are maintaining numerous evacuation orders and alerts issued since waters began to rise.

The Cariboo Regional District issued a new evacuation alert for several properties in the Bridge Creek - Houseman Road area, Tuesday afternoon. The affected area is about 14 kilometres northeast of 100 Mile House.

Cache Creek councillor and emergency operations centre spokesperson Wendy Coomber says although snowmelt has slowed at the headwaters of area rivers and streams, it could pick up this weekend.

Thompson-Nicola Regional District emergency response co-ordinator Kevin Skrepnek says snowpacks in the North and South Thompson regions remain "extraordinarily high."

He says flooding might be avoided if temperatures remain mild and there is little rain.

The river forecast centre is maintaining high streamflow advisories for the Salmon River near Salmon Arm and the Dean River north of Bella Coola, but it has ended the advisory for the Nazko Basin west of Prince George.

The centre's website says the Bonaparte River below Cache Creek continues to flow at a rate not seen in 20 to 50 years, and a flood watch remains while the waterway slowly recedes.

Largest floods in 200 years: councillor

In Williams Lake, Coun. Scott Nelson described the floods as the "single largest'' the area had seen in about 200 years.

The city has issued an evacuation alert for the Green Acres Mobile Home Park, affecting 86 homes. Nelson said the city is asking residents to ration water due to a ruptured sewer line in the River Valley.

The water has pushed up the creeks, turning them into rivers that eat out the sides of the banks and pull down dirt and stumps, creating a flowing mud bog, he said.

"We're looking to get through this but it's simply a terrible, terrible situation,'' he said. "The water has risen in our lakes probably four or five feet.''

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said he's lived in the area for 65 years and has never seen flooding like he is seeing this year.

"And we've been told that the worst is yet to come," he said.

Conditions worsened since 2017

The flooding in B.C.'s Interior has been exacerbated by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, which left the soil and ecosystem with a limited capacity to absorb water, experts say.

Prof. Lori Daniels from the University of B.C.'s Faculty of Forestry says a forest ravaged by fire does not have canopy tops or leaves, twigs and other organic matter on the floor to absorb the water.

Snow captured in treetops evaporates back into the atmosphere, but when it accumulates on the ground it melts and seeps into the soil, she said.

"In an intact forest, there's trees and branches and plant parts that ... act like sponges and absorb the melting snow so that there's a lot of water being held both on the surface of the soil and infiltrating down into the soil particles,'' Daniels said.

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