Taking a page from history, the Okanagan is getting ready to battle the reality of future flooding.
The Okanagan Flood Story has been created online to show historic and current events, floodplain maps, changing climate and resources.
“It started out following the historic Okanagan flooding in 2017,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board. “We had only a handful of quite outdated maps and they didn’t cover all of the lakeshores.”
The Story, which is online at the OBWB website, was a $2.5 million project (funded) over two years and launched May 6, 2020.
“Because of this mapping project we are much better prepared,” said Warwick Sears. “The risk of flooding has always been with us and now we have an opportunity to understand the risks better.”
The new tool will assist residents, businesses and communities moving forward with the various components including an address search that will detail flooding anticipations.
“We shared this with a fire chief in particular who said this would have been fantastic to have in 2017, 2018,” said Julie Van de Valk, flood risk specialist with Northwest Hydraulic Consultants.
Osoyoos Mayor and OBWB chairperson Sue McKortoff recalls a resident wanting such a resource during those historic floods.
“He asked: ‘How do I know whether my property might be flooded if the lake goes up a little bit?’ And I think this project answers that question,” said McKortoff. “Even people not on the lake will be able to look at this and figure out what level they might need to start putting sandbags around their property.”
While 2017 record flood year for Okanagan and Kalamalka lakes, the resource also includes data dating back 200 years.
And, it may be updated as future events take place.
“The potential for flooding in the Okanagan is expected to increase,” said Piotr Kurás, NHC team lead.
Currently, the flood risk for the Okanagan is highest in the north (with concerns near Salmon Arm Creek) while the rest of the valley could sneak through spring without getting too wet.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to have floods but it all depends on mother nature,” said McKortoff, after speaking with the River Forecast Centre.
The Okanagan Flood Story comes at a perfect time for many communities as they are dealing with typical flood season.
“This is not only emergency preparedness week but we are looking at the spring freshet and in Osoyoos, it’s raining so we’ve got a little bit of everything and this is helpful,” said McKortoff. “We already have sandbags and sand ready, we’re hoping we aren’t going to need it this year, but we certainly are ready.”
McKortoff has lived in Osoyoos for 50 years and has seen several changes over the years. That includes 1974 floods, which prompted new building levels, which has left her wondering if even newer levels are needed now.
The Flood Story is anticipated to spur such questions, along with potential insurance concerns. Homeowners are advised to contact their insurance providers to discuss.