Okanagan river channel expansion may be key to preventing more Okanagan Lake floods | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan river channel expansion may be key to preventing more Okanagan Lake floods

A recent discussion at the Okanagan Basin Water Board's regular meeting in October talked about initiating a study looking into expansion of the Okanagan river channel to the U.S. border.
November 09, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Highly variable annual high water levels on Okanagan Lake over the past few years has authorities looking for new ways to control outflow of the Okanagan’s largest reservoir and that could have downstream effects.

Shaun Reimer from Ministry of Forests, Lands Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development told the Okanagan Basin Water Board in October he has to balance a number of factors to try to keep lake levels from going too low or too high.

In three of the past four years, Okanagan Lake has flooded, most notably during the high water seen in 2017.

This past spring also saw late-season high water levels on the lake.

Yet in other years, water levels struggled to reach full pool.

Reimer controls how much water is released from Okanagan Lake. He has to account for a number of factors, including domestic and agricultural irrigation needs in summer, and the impact of water levels on kokanee eggs. A certain amount of guesswork is needed as well in terms of how much precipitation will fall in the spring and summer.

Okanagan Lake is part of a chain of lakes and water systems leading to the U.S. He said part of the issue is he can only release so much water at a time to prevent downstream flooding.

He suggested the province and the water board begin looking at a study to see if downstream expansion of the channel into the United States could create a more reactive approach to lake level management.

Expansion of the river channel below Okanagan Lake, south to the border would involve land acquisition and other implications that would call for much discussion between governments and the public, Okanagan Basin Water Board communications director Corinne Jackson said.

“We’re not at the point of buying up land for channel expansion. It’s an avenue to be explored and if it takes place would be several years in the making,” she said. “It’s a complicated system, looking after the needs of residents, ecosystems, and also having to consider implications south of the border."

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