Part of a the eight kilometres of bladder dam currently being used in the Okanagan to protect against flooding from Okanagan Lake. This stretch was being filled in West Kelowna’s Pritchard Park last week.—Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Bracing for wind as Okanagan Lake level continues to rise

Provincial authorities warn high lake level likely to last until mid-summer.

Get ready for a windy night and high water levels in Okanagan Lake that provincial officials say could last through to at least the middle of the summer.

That was the message Tuesday afternoon from provincial authorities dealing with the ongoing flood threat here that is currently seeing nearly three times as much water flowing into the lake as can be let out at its southern end.

According to Bryan Symonds of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the lake level is rising between three and four centimetres per day, but an amount equivalent to only 1.5 cm can be released into the Penticton River Channel, which is slightly more than the channel was designed to handle.

Fed by more snow than is usual at higher elevations—especially flowing into Mission Creek—Okanagan Lake is expected to continue to rise well into July, said Symonds.

Flood watchers are preparing for winds gusting as strong as 70 kilometres per hour through the Central Okanagan tonight as a cold front is expected to bring cooler temperatures.

But that break in the hot weather is expected to be short-lived. While the lower temperatures are expected to stay briefly—giving the area some flooding respite as long as the winds die down—more hot weather is in the forecast for the end of the week and next weekend, and that could mean more snow melt higher up adding to the water flow.

“We haven’t turned the corner at all elevations yet,” said David Campbell of the B.C. River Forecasting Centre about the snow melt in a teleconference call with reporters Tuesday.

Last weekend’s hot weather did not help. All the officials on the conference call reiterated the caution for boaters using the lake, saying debris under the surface, as well as some already submerged docks, could cause problems for boats.

Symonds said the safety of the William Bennett Bridge, however, is not a concern. Operators of the bridge have been adjusting the tension of the cables securing the floating portion to anchors on the lake bed and the bridge acts as a type of breakwater on the lake when winds kick up.

In addition to ongoing flood protection—1.7 million sandbags have been made available and eight kilometers of bladder dam has been used here so far—emergency financial help is available for those who need it. Another 17 kilometres of bladder dam are available if needed, according to the province.

Currently there are five emergency social services centres open, 85 homes are evacuated, 185 homes are on evacuation alert and 500 people have registered with emergency social services throughout the Okanagan.