Local community members and volunteer firefighters came out by the dozens the night of March 23 — an estimated 50 volunteers in total — to mitigate the potential for further damage caused by flooding in the Willowbrook community. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

South Okanagan community exhausted with floods

Residents have been working tirelessly for more than a week to contain flooding in the community

The exhaustion is evident in Brenda Boye’s voice.

Boye is one of a number of community members in the Willowbrook area in the line of fire — or more accurately, the line of water — running through the community, threatening to flood homes.

But after flooding hit the community last year, residents are determined not to let basements flood, a natural disaster that can mean thousands of dollars in damage. While insurance would cover the damages, one resident said the premiums will go up, and the deductible is in the thousands.

Related: Sandbagging support needed for South Okanagan residents

And there comes a point when insurers will say it isn’t worth it to cover flooding in an area that, if the flow of water keeps up, will be a floodplain.

So the community has been working tirelessly to fortify sandbag barriers maintaining the flow of a creek through the community. So far, it has taken stacking sandbags about a foot-and-a-half on either side of the creek to keep from breaching.

“It’s been seven days of sandbagging and I’m so exhausted,” Boye said. “We’re all done. It’s really hard to keep going, but you have to keep going.”

Related: Province removing section of road to help drain Willowbrook

But Boye cautions against complacency at this point.

“We are by no means done. We may have caught up a little but, but we have a long way to go, because the spring melt has not even started, yet,” she said. “This is all from that dam being let out, and from the heavy rain we had last week.”

Last week, the community was topping up on sandbags in the area due to heavy rain that caused overflowing in ponds uphill from the community when the Kearns Creek dam reached its capacity.

Related: Willowbrook resident says province ignored proactive measures

To avoid a breach, the operators of the dam conducted a controlled spill, with all of the water heading toward Willowbrook, meaning an all-nighter for the community, sandbagging in preparation for the impending rise in water levels. The water rose six inches by the next morning.

In fact, Boye said the community has pulled a couple of all-nighters on sandbagging duty, and even her nine-year-old daughter chipped in during her spring break.

Last week, the regional district announced that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure came to the area to cut out a chunk of a local road to help water flow, because the culvert was not cutting it.

Related: Slowly rising ground water a concern in Willowbrook

Currently no homes in the community have been flooded, Boye said, although one house uphill from the community got some flooding in an unfinished basement.

And with temperatures rising, that threat may soon be followed by another: the annual freshet. That means the sandbagging likely won’t end anytime soon, but the community is hitting a wall.

“A lot of people didn’t show up today because they’re just done,” Boye said. “We had some more sand brought in, and we’ve talked as a group of people to come for an hour a day and make sandbags so that they’re there when we need them. Because it’s a very long channel, and there are leaky spots.”

Related: Kearns Creek dam near Willowbrook reaches capacity

The issue with leaking in the walls is that while the creek is still flowing, the more water that gets out and sits in the fields, the more groundwater rises, threatening basements.

The community put out a call for help over the weekend, asking for people to help, even if just for an hour after dinner, to make sandbags. Boye said there has been some response, including some people from the Oliver area and a group from Penticton, and even a man on holiday in the area from Saskatchewan offered his time.

“We need some momentum. We need some more help,” Boye said.

Anyone who can offer anything can call Boye at 250-498-6999. Any help is appreciated, Boye said, noting some had brought homemade soup, bottled water and coffee to keep the workers going.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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