Okanagan Lake’s 'full pool' target hasn’t changed for decades, but maybe it should - InfoNews

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Okanagan Lake’s 'full pool' target hasn’t changed for decades, but maybe it should

Some people are suggesting the full pool setting for Okanagan Lake be lowered to minimize the risk of flooding as happened in 2017.
August 20, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Ongoing concerns about Okanagan Lake flooding has sparked the District of Peachland to suggest the full pool mark for the lake be lowered pending a review of what that level should be.

That recommendation followed a presentation to council last month, at its request, by Shaun Reimer, section head for public safety and protection with the Ministry of Forests and the man who controls the lake outflow at Penticton.

Reimer, however, is not pushing for such changes at this time.

“I understand where their concerns would be and I think that it is probably time to start having those discussions around lake level targets,” he told iNFOnews.ca.

But, at this point, he will leave it in the hands of the politicians. Peachland council directed Mayor Cindy Fortin to write to the Okanagan Basin Water Board and Regional District of the Central Okanagan asking for their support.

“Our lake level targets were put in place through a big consultative process back in the 1960s and 70s,” Reimer said. “They were based on the information at the time and a sort of limited data set at the time of where lake levels were and their understanding of what the climate was and certainly didn’t factor in any climate change.”

While a simplistic answer to the floods in 2017 is to not allow the lake to get so full before all the snow in the surrounding hill melts, it’s not as easy as that.

This year, for example, the full pool target was pretty well met just as heavy rains started falling in May and June, meaning enough water could not be discharged fast enough to avoid the lake going over full pool, although there were only minor problems.

READ MORE: Without flooding creeks and streams, we wouldn't have Okanagan beaches

And there are many risks to lowering the level of the lake over the winter, not the least of which is the potential killing of millions of eggs laid by shore spawning kokanee.

Then there’s the potential that lowering the lake too much in a drought year, or series of drought years, could have serious economic impacts on farms that need water for irrigation, especially in the South Okanagan.

Since the 2017 flood, governments at various levels have been collecting data in an effort to more accurately predict floods and droughts.

For example, the River Forecast Centre is trying to make its predictions more accurate by more closely measuring the snowpack on north versus south facing slopes, at different elevations and taking into account different types of vegetation.

“I think we’ve got some up-to-date information now in terms of the flooding, but I’m not sure we have everything we need to know, or if it’s even possible to find out, about the climate change impacts to that drought piece,” Reimer said. ”Should we start changing lake levels? Maybe that information is out there and maybe what we’re looking at is something like a gap analysis.”

Weather patterns are changing so quickly and so dramatically that it will be no simple task coming up with changes to what is considered full pool, if any changes are to be made at all.

As far as Reimer is concerned, any such discussion will be initiated by bodies like the Okanagan Basin Water Board or others who have more expertise on things like climate change and “have far more letters after their names than I do.”

In the meantime, full pool on the gauge near City Park in Kelowna will continue to be 342.48 metres above sea level.


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