FLOOD WATCH 2017: Flooding concerns rising in the Similkameen

Water flowing out of Keremeos Creek annually pools near the community of Olalla in the Similkameen Valley. This year, several residents are volunarily evacuating their property as water levels continue to rise.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / RDOS

KEREMEOS - Hot weather earlier this week has resulted in a steadily increasing flow of water in Keremeos Creek, resulting in water issues in Olalla and Cawston.

'Lake Olalla' as the flooding is locally known, has formed once again over the low-lying flats just east of the community.

The annual flooding of the flats has resulted in several Olalla residents sandbagging their homes this week as melting snow at higher elevations has dramatically increased the flow of Keremeos Creek.

“The flooding of the flats is an annual concern, this year especially because of the high flows,” Regional District emergency services operations Cameron Baughen says. "We do have some people who are voluntarily evacuating, they are getting emergency services assistance, although there is no evacuation alert."

He says at least five people in Olalla have been given three days worth of emergency assistance, but will need to look for further accommodations as the flooding is expected to continue for another couple of weeks.

“Some people in other threatened areas are already looking at alternative accommodations to see them through this period,” he says, noting the emergency assistance only provides a three day window of relocating expenses.

The Regional District issued an update on May 24 cautioning residents of the potential for current conditions to worsen over the weekend as warmer temperatures are expected to increase localized flooding.

The Keremeos Grist Mill was sandbagged last night, May 24, 2017, after Keremeos Creek rose to within eight inches of the mill foundation.
The Keremeos Grist Mill was sandbagged last night, May 24, 2017, after Keremeos Creek rose to within eight inches of the mill foundation.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

Emergency personnel are stressing the need for the public to be wary of fast moving waters and to stay away from streams and rivers in the area.

“This is a very turbulent time, with a lot of water and debris moving through these creeks in the Similkameen and you’re taking your life in your hands if you go fooling around in those creeks right now,” Baughen says.

High water also prompted sandbagging around the historic Keremeos Grist Mill yesterday, May 24.

Grist Mill manager Chris Mathieson says the creek is running the highest he has ever seen and is now eight inches below the mill's foundation.

He’s optimistic the creek won’t run higher, as a culvert at Highway 3A and Upper Bench Road has been overflowing into a cherry orchard for the past couple of days because water is flowing through it at maximum capacity.

“What’s interesting, from a historical perspective, is there was a big flood around 100 years ago that ripped the original water wheel off the mill, which resulted in it not being used as a mill anymore,” Mathieson says. The building was used for various other purposes until it was restored as a heritage site to its original purpose.

He says the biggest worry right now is what the water can bring with it, along with the potential for infrastructure failure. He says mill staff continue to monitor the creek to ensure debris doesn’t hang up as it moves through the property.

Mathieson had high praise for the community, noting a dozen people responded to a call for sandbagging around the mill.

“Campers, members of the community all showed up at a moment’s notice to help sandbag and get us prepped. I’m still getting phone calls from people who want to help, but we’re good right now,” he said.

Keremeos Public Works foreman Jordy Bosscha says Keremeos hasn’t experienced any flooding issues, but Keremeos Creek is running fast and has resulted in some flooding issues in Cawston.

Bosscha, who also serves as the Village's fire chief says he's been out doing flood assessments and making arrangements to have sand delivered to several locations. He anticipates a rise in the Similkameen River over the next few days, but doesn’t expect it will impact Keremeos.

Similkameen residents looking for sand and sandbags can find them at the Kerermeos Irrigation pump station at 900 Sparks Dr.

Residents needing emergency assistance, or who have a flooding concern, are asked to call the Regional District’s Emergency Operations Centre at 250-492-0237 or the Provincial Emergency Program for after hours calls at 1-800-663-3456.

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