No easy solution for ice jams

Communities downriver of Princeton are concerned about ice jams that could cause flooding

 

Questions surrounding the issue of dike maintenance are starting to flow again at the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS).

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer requested RDOS staff to gather information about dike assessments and remediation at the RDOS meeting last week.

“For dikes in the RDOS it really does affect the whole valley,” he said. “It’s a complicated issue, one that involves policy, sometimes provincial emergency response in the case of flooding. We need to know when do they kick in preventatively,” he said.

Keremeos was forced to take on the role as a diking authority at least a decade ago from the province. Under legislation, each year the municipality is required to complete an inspection on the approximate two-kilolmetre dike that runs through the community.

In 2013 the village took an extra step, contracting engineers to complete a Dike Condition Assessment. Although two culverts needed to be cleaned out no major erosion issues were identified.

“Within the village we have no issues. Our main concern is upriver. If they aren’t taking care of theirs what does that mean for us?” Bauer said.

At least once in the last year ice has flowed down from the Tullameen, and Princeton area and created a semi-jam or full jam between the red and white bridge in Keremeos.

No flooding did occur but the threat is always there and dependant on weather.

If ice becomes jammed and extreme cold temperatures persist a complete blockage could occur causing the water to be forced up and over the dike.

Although it was about a decade ago that the province created policy’s encouraging local government to assume authority over dikes in their areas, some have not, said Shaun Reimer, section head for public safety and protection for the Ministry of Forest and Natural Resources.

Currently there are 14 known dikes on the Similkameen, eight of those are considered orphaned.

The ministry now considers itself a regulatory agency and not responsible for the majority of the province’s dikes.

“Some of the dikes on the Similkameen were built by the province back in the 1970s in different areas,” he said. “No authority has stepped up to take ownership of some of the dikes.”

Dike inspection and maintenance can cost municipalities large sums of money and there is no specific help provided by the province.

Reimer agreed that if a dike breached for any reason the water could find its way back downstream under the right circumstances and cause problems for the next community as well.

But he said in the case of ice jams a dike would most likely not help with preventing the water to go up and over.

“There’s no good way to deal with ice jam flooding,” he said.

Municipalities that experience flooding can contact Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC), which is under the Ministry of Justice.

“There is a BC flood response plan, when the size of a flood…  outstrips the ability of the local government to deal with it. So the province might be called in,” he said.

Reimer said in a lot of circumstances when EMBC has to come in and build a dike to prevent flooding they tear it down once the threat is over to stop it from becoming an orphaned dike in the future.

A report about dikes in the area is expected from RDOS at the next regularly scheduled meeting January 21.