Steve Schell of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development speaks to the crowd at the Silver Creek Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 21. (Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer)

Government staff try to give answers to Shuswap community hit by floods

Residents may require permits for flood prevention work, financial assistance not widely received

High water in the Salmon River and its tributaries caused serious trouble for the people of Silver Creek in the spring of 2017 and 2018.

The flooding damaged homes, contaminated wells and even swept parts of some people’s property into the raging river and swollen creeks.

The Silver Creek community got a chance to hear about available relief options to assist those affected by the flooding, and how conditions look for the coming freshet, from representatives of various government agencies during an open house held Nov. 21 at the Silver Creek Community Hall.

In attendance were Trevor Bohay, a resource manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development (FLNRORD), Mike Knauff, a regional manager with Emergency Management BC (EMBC), Steve Schell, also representing FLNRORD, and Derek Sutherland and Tom Hansen representing the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD).

According to the government representatives, the main factor behind the flooding was heavy snowfall in the mountains above the Salmon River Valley. Measurements taken on March 1, 2018, showed snow levels were 111 per cent of normal. The heavy snow pack into the early spring was followed by temperatures that stayed between four and 12 degrees above normal for a whole month.

Hansen said his Environment Canada contacts had never seen anything like it. The result was stream discharge from the Salmon River which was the highest recorded in 55 years of monitoring.

Related:Family evacuated from Silver Creek in Shuswap

Bohay elaborated on Hansen’s assessment of the flooding situation, saying that along with snow pack and temperature concerns, groundwater levels in the area were also at record highs before the 2018 flooding.

“You can think of the groundwater table like a big sponge and it saturates. If you pour water on a wet sponge it just pours over the top,” he said.

Several of the residents asked the government employees if they would be allowed to perform repairs on the stream banks on their own properties.

Bohay explained that for such work to be legal, the residents would have to apply for a government permit called a Section 11, and prove the planned work will not negatively impact ecosystems or neighbouring properties.

“If people are doing work around streams we need to ensure they are doing it properly,” he said.

“We don’t want to see a situation where someone has an excavator and they put up some sort of a berm to protect their hay field and it redirects water into their neighbour’s house.”

“Nothing government on the Internet is user friendly,” said Lindsay Bartko of the difficulties she has faced finding information on topics such as Section 11 permits.

The issue of work near streams is complicated by the fact that while municipalities can apply for Section 11 permits, and do in-stream works funded through their tax-funded reserves, regional districts, which are funded through provincial taxes, cannot.

Sutherland said that for CSRD to do stream remediation work in the Salmon River, it would have to tax residents living along the river, likely at great cost, in order to pay for the work.

Another topic covered by the government officials was disaster financial assistance available through EMBC for uninsurable events such as floods. One of the Silver Creek residents in attendance asked if anyone affected by the flooding in the past few years had received the financial assistance. Only one person spoke up saying that they had.

Sutherland acknowledged that the disaster financial assistance program is far from great. Hansen noted that other provinces make those affected by disaster pay to repair damaged property first and then reimburses them afterwards.

One resident asked how confident they are that the conditions which caused flooding in 2017 and 2018 will not repeat themselves. The answer from all involved was that they cannot even begin to predict what freshet conditions will be like as snow begins to amass on the mountains in the Shuswap.

Schell said that it is becoming clear to the government that climate change has made weather extremes like the ones which caused the flooding more and more common. He pointed to a report recently commissioned by the provincial government entitled, Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management which recognizes that extreme weather events will probably only increase in frequency and contains plans to manage their results.


@SalmonArm
jim.elliot@saobserver.net

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