Emergency officials withheld Okanagan Lake flooding prediction - InfoNews

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Emergency officials withheld Okanagan Lake flooding prediction

A dock is submerged in the waters of Okanagan Lake, just offshore of the Okanagan Indian Band, May 24, 2017.
May 17, 2018 - 4:29 PM

OKANAGAN - Emergency operations officials throughout the Okanagan have known since at least Monday that Okanagan Lake is likely to rise to near historic levels but only revealed it today.

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources says the lake will likely rise to 343 metres and may go higher, but that information was largely withheld from the public.

If indeed the lake reaches 343 metres — just 25 centimetres below last year’s high water mark and 52 cms above full pool — considerable damage is once again likely. The lake is currently at 342.42 metres and rising at roughly six centimetres per day, though the rate of rise is expected to diminish in the next week, according to the ministry. 

Last year, most boats could not access the lake, B.C. Wildfire firefighters were stationed around the Okanagan in camps to help fill millions of sandbags to protect properties and hundreds of boat docks, boats and other facilities were damaged.

But there was no mention of the predicted lake level in any emergency operations releases earlier this week from the North Okanagan, Central Okanagan or South Okanagan regional districts.

The only mention of it before today, May 17, was a release posted to the City of Penticton website May 15, then again today by the District of Summerland.

Central Okanagan emergency officials on May 16 referred questions about predicted lake levels to the ministry.

In a press teleconference this afternoon, ministry official Shaun Reimer said he calculated the 343 metre number on Monday afternoon and discussed it with emergency operations officials shortly after.

He said he discussed flood messaging with the emergency operations centres but it was centred around the “subtlety” of the information they would release, rather than hard numbers.

“We don’t want to cause panic and misunderstanding out there,” he said.

When asked today why they didn’t release that information earlier, Central Okanagan public information officer Ed Henczel said the number “doesn’t really mean anything” to most people.

“That’s why we’re saying what you did in 2017, if it was adequate, replicate it, if it wasn’t then go beyond that,” Henczel added.

Central Okanagan emergency officials confirmed for the first time this afternoon, in the ninth paragraph of a news release headlined 'Enjoy Okanagan Lake this weekend with a few safety precautions' that the lake is expected to reach 2017 levels. 

Emergency officials from on all ends of the lake issued a caution to boaters today to be respectful of flood control equipment and homeowners and create no wake. 

— This story was clarified at 2:33 p.m. May 18. A previous version said boats were prohibited on Okanagan Lake during lake flooding in 2017. They were not, in fact, prohibited by law, only by impediments. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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