Authorities keeping close eye on weather, snowpack and Okanagan Lake - InfoNews

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Authorities keeping close eye on weather, snowpack and Okanagan Lake

Water is flowing through the Okanagan Lake dam at the mouth of the Okanagan River Channel in Penticton, Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
March 14, 2018 - 3:00 PM

PENTICTON - High snowpack levels do not necessarily a flood year make, but Okanagan communities should be making preparations for high water this spring, based on the current data.

Dave Campbell with the B.C. River Forecast Centre says municipalities should be preparing for high water levels, with Okanagan flooding a possibility depending on spring weather.

The Okanagan snowpack in February this year contains the same volume of snow as was seen at the peak of the season last year, which was six weeks later.

“From a volume perspective, it’s much different this year, with much more snow," Campbell says.

Last year's flood risk was largely driven by spring rainfall.

"This year’s snowpack combined with wet weather could be quite significant,” he says. “We don’t always have flooding with high snowpacks. Things are very much dependent on weather over the next two months."

The person responsible for the operation of the Okanagan Lake dam at the mouth of the Okanagan River Channel in Penticton echoes Campbell's comments.

Shaun Reimer with the Ministry of Natural Resources says flood risk is dependent on how wet or dry it is going forward, and more particularly, how quickly the water flows into Okanagan Lake.

“Anytime the snow basin index gets as high as it is, that’s concerning to us," Reimer says. "We’re trying to make the appropriate decisions around lake level management that also takes into consideration lake inflow predictions between March and the end of July that are predicted to be 145 per cent of normal.”

Even with such high snowpack and inflow predictions, Reimer says he’s on track to get the level of Okanagan Lake to the target set for the end of March. Then new data will be used to formulate April target levels.

Okanagan Lake is currently 17 cm below last year’s level at this time and is dropping a half centimetre daily.

Reimer says the flow is a little higher than what is recommended for sockeye salmon scouring thresholds in the Okanagan River.

“That will be impacted somewhat. We may have to go higher, depending on snow melt and rainfall,” he says.

Volume estimates are for two metres of water flowing into Okanagan Lake through the end of July. With the lake currently 90 cm below full pool and dropping, Reimer says that translates to just over a metre of water that has to be emptied from the lake by summer.

“At 40 cubic metres a day, the lake drops one centimetre, so over the next 100 days if I average that, I should be fine."

Reimer says right now the lake is emptying at 30 cubic metres per day but he is fully expecting in a few weeks or a month, he will be raising the outflow to 50 or 60 cubic metres per day.

"It gives me a little wiggle room if we have underestimated... because the snow keeps building at a higher rate than normal,” he says.

Reimer agrees with the assessment from the River Forecast Centre that the higher snowpack levels don’t necessarily translate into spring flooding.

“It depends, going forward, in terms of precipitation and snowmelt. We’re being aggressive, and we have room to get more aggressive."

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