Ron McMillan used to harvest 300 bales of hay from his lower field, but he’s hard-pressed to get 100 now, after two years of flooding from Mission Creek.
He owns McMillan Farms on Berard Road, a 110-acre farm that’s been in the family since 1950. It’s a spot that’s familiar to generations of youngsters as the place to visit to enjoy hay mazes, pick up pumpkins and meet farm animals.
But, he had never seen as much water as he did in the spring, when 40 acres were completely flooded with between six inches and three feet of water inundating the fields. Parts of the fields stayed wet through much of the summer, he said.
The property is crossed by Rumohr Creek, which joins Casorso Creek on his property before flowing into Mission Creek upstream from the Casorso Road bridge.
He said the province used to dredge the gravel out of the creek but it’s been 15 years since that was last done and new gravel bars are opening up along that section of creek.
With that much sediment being dropped in front of his property, the creek bed is rising. So flooding is now likely to happen more often, he fears.
He’s concerned that plans to set back the dikes along the creek to re-naturalize its historic meanders with the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative will make his problems worse, and could even impact downstream properties.
He feels if the gravel in the creek were mined out, it wouldn’t cost anything to do the dredging because the gravel could then be sold.
As it is now, he said the wetland on his property is less healthy because of reduced flows in Casorso Creek, which has been blocked by the buildup of gravel in Mission Creek. That has created a stagnant wet area that’s full of algae.
“We don’t see the herons any more,” he said.
Shaun Reimer, a hydrotechnical engineer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in Penticton, said gravel does move in and out of different sections of the creek as part of its natural evolution.
“Creek beds move. Bedload comes down in plugs and when you talk about the bottom of the channel, you’re talking about something that moves over time,” he explained.
Last spring, the creek reached the highest flows ever recorded. So there are concerns about the dikes which were designed to be adequate for a one-in-200-year flood, with a few feet of freeboard.
Following this year’s record high flows, he said he is embarking on a study of the creek’s hydrology, which should be complete by next March.
That will include cross-section surveying which can be compared to historic data, including the last survey conducted in 1998, and flow analysis on the creek.
From that, he will make recommendations on issues such as dike crest heights and removal of bedload. But, he added, dredging the creek bed is something authoriti are hesitatant to do for both environmental and economic reasons.
There is no dike along the side of the creek where McMillan Farm is located because Casorso Creek enters Mission Creek there and tributaries enter, so high water from the creek naturally
backs up, helping to absorb the high flows in the main creek.
Reimer is hopeful plans to set back the dikes along Mission Creek in future will help reduce flooding issues by providing more land on which the creek can spread out when the water is high.
However, he noted, development next to creeks and rivers is an issue around the world, whenever there’s high water.