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FLOOD WATCH 2017: Is anyone going to fix this South Okanagan dike before it's too late?

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen Cawston Director George Bush stands at the edge of a section of the Similkameen dike near Cawston which is being eroded away, but in spite of his efforts over the past two years, Bush has not been able to get the province to make repairs.
May 12, 2017 - 6:30 PM

CAWSTON - Cawston's regional district representative is concerned about the state of a section of the Similkameen dike in the Cawston area and frustrated in his attempts to have something done about it before the waters of the Similkameen River end up flowing past residents' doorsteps.

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen Cawston Director George Bush says the Similkameen River breached the dike in the very same spot in the late 1940s.

Water flowed freely down Newton Road, flooding a good part of Cawston.

In 1972, the river broke through the dam farther upstream, also resulting in a flood down Newton Road in Cawston.

“In 1974, the water ran within two feet of the top of the dike and big rocks were carried downstream,” he says. Bush notes the water in the river runs fast and is particularly deep at this point as well, at least 15 feet.

The river runs broadside into the dike as it makes a 90 degree turn in the river, and over the years the protective large boulders at the base of the dike have been scoured away by the rapid current.

The water is visibly eating into the dike, and fears are a higher than normal spring freshet will undermine and collapse the dike.

“There are probably 100 homes in Cawston that would be flooded,” Bush says, adding he’s been trying for two years to have repairs made - a relatively simple task at this point.

“The last time it cost millions in damage,” he says.

Bush figures it would only cost roughly $45,000 to fix the dike, but the province considers it an orphaned dike and refuses to take responsibility.

He noted the Similkameen River has dropped from last weekend’s levels by Thursday, May 11, but said the spring freshet was in its early stages and the river had yet to reach its peak.

RDOS Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch said the dike is part of a much larger policy issue around the province. He understands it needs work but the regional district must insist the province maintain it because if the regional district does the right thing and repairs, it will assume the risk and liability.

“The province has even offered grant money to fix them, but if you touch the dike, you may end up owning it,” he said, adding they are quite expensive to maintain.

Kronebusch says the matter or orphaned dikes has gone before the Union of B.C. Municipalities but nothing has been resolved.

“I’m not sure where it’s going to go.... I’m too scared to pull the trigger and fix the dike, or to shore it up to keep it from eroding, because then, we may own it,” he said.

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations spokesperson Gabrielle Price said today, May 12, the ministry has not been contacted by the regional district about the dike issue in Cawston.

"As the diking authority, the regional district is the first responder and would have a plan in place to address any concerns. The ministry would play a supporting role," she said in an email.

Latest April figures from the B.C. River Forecast Centre show the Similkameen snowpack at 146 per cent of normal. Seasonal runoff in the Similkameen is 120 per cent of normal and the melt season has been delayed by two weeks this year.

There's still lots of moisture at higher elevations waiting to come down, and if the area continues to see more rain and warmer weather, Bush fears the river could rise considerably above normal this year.

If that happens, he and his constituents will be anxiously watching the rising river in the hope this year isn’t the one in which history repeats itself.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 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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