A shot of the damage from the Testalinden Creek dam failure in 2010, which sent a torrent of water, mud and debris into a community and farming area south of Oliver. Photo courtesy Province of B.C.

Province has no worries about South Okanagan dam breaches

Despite early issues with area dams, officials not worried about a 2010 Testalinden dam breach repeat

Provincial officials say they have few fears of a repeat of the 2010 Testalinden Creek dam failure, as water levels continue to rise in the South Okanagan.

Officials with Emergency Management B.C., including Jennifer Rice, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary of emergency preparedness, were in the South Okanagan Wednesday to tour flooding in the region.

They also visited the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen’s new, expanded emergency operations centre set up next door to the RDOS building with a bit of rent help from the province.

Related: Water levels rising across South Okanagan and Similkameen

In 2010, a privately owned, man-made earthen dam along the Testalinden Creek failed, causing “an enormous debris and mud torrent that severely impacted a number of homes and an agricultural area,” according to a B.C. government review of the incident.

In that review, conducted by the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the author noted an apparently broken game of telephone prior to the dam’s breach. According to the review, a hiker reported overflowing at the dam to an Osoyoos tourism booth, which called a non-emergency line for local RCMP, who called a Ministry of Forests and Range office in Vernon, where an official called and left a message with a ministry enforcement officer.

Related: Owner of breached Testalinden Dam denied responsibility

That voicemail was not received until after the dam breached. When it was received, mislabelling of roads and no reference to dam stability issues meant the call “was not described as an urgent priority.”

As well, the review noted a “consistent pattern of concerns and warnings issued by … agencies with responsibility for the Water Act to make needed repairs to the structure to maintain its integrity.”

But despite those warnings, the report said there was no indication of any repairs, nor any accountability for repairs from the provincial government.

Related: Kearns Creek dam near Willowbrook reaches capacity

After concerns earlier this spring about the Kearns Creek dam, which was unable to offload water as fast as it was coming in, an official with Emergency Management B.C. said he was not concerned about a potential failure of any of the region’s private dams.

“Our program has been very significantly upgraded since that time. We’ve put in a lot of improvements. We are monitoring a lot more than we have in the past,” said Mike Noseworthy, senior dam safety engineer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“In this particular flood situation, we had a number of dams that we were looking at very closely, ensuring that they remained safe, and I think that all of those dams are in good shape.”

Related: Dam level reduction in South Okanagan area

As flooding continued to build up in the region, the RDOS and provincial ministries have worked to mitigate risks to the dams by pumping water out and reducing the manmade lakes’ levels.

Further downstream, where water is continuing to build up and 16 homes have been evacuated, RDOS officials said they are similarly keeping an eye on Highway 97 at the junction with Sportsmens Bowl Road.

“We’re monitoring it constantly. We’re watching the water levels, we’re working with the various ministries. … They updated some culverts in the area,” Mark Woods with the RDOS emergency operations centre said. “Those are working very well, so we’re watching those closely through our contract experts, as well.”

Related: Rural Oliver man hopes for Highway 97 culvert relief

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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