Brian Guy.

Ministry review: No way to prevent 2017 spring flooding

Report cites need for better forecasting models and snowpack data collection

Provincial ministry staff could not have done anything different to prevent the widespread flooding across the Okanagan Valley last spring, according to an independent review.

The review, carried out by Associated Environmental Consultants Inc. (AEC), found the actions of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development staff were appropriate in response to flooding that occurred in Okanagan, Kalamalka and Nicola lakes.

Related: Internal review complete

The report, which was completed by Brian Guy, a retired geoscientist with AEC and member of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, concluded that a wetter-than-average spring, combined with unusual weather conditions in the previous fall and winter, were the primary drivers behind the severe flooding in the Thompson-Okanagan region.

“When B.C. communities are impacted by flooding or wildfires, we have a responsibility to make sure we are doing all we can to keep residents safe,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“Last spring’s flooding in the Thompson Okanagan was quickly followed by an unprecedented wildfire season throughout the province. It’s important to review our response actions and determine how we can do better.”

The ministry initiated the independent review last year to determine the effectiveness of the ministry’s flood response and to see what could have been done differently to reduce flooding impacts.

Related: Officials assess flood prevention measures

The report states high inflows to Okanagan Lake, Kalamalka Lake and Nicola Lake in the spring of 2017 were part of a general pattern of high flows in creeks and rivers in this area of B.C. that resulted in widespread flooding due to high lake levels, a high groundwater table and high streamflows.

The high flows resulted from a combination of high elevation snow melt and above-average rainfall. Both Okanagan and Nicola Lakes experienced their highest May inflows on record.

The report, titled A Review of 2017 Flood Response: Okanagan Lake Regulation System and Nicola Dam, contains 65 recommendations regarding staffing levels, experience and training, and streamflow forecasting models in the face of climate change.

The review looked at the operational management of the ministry-owned and ministry-operated Okanagan Lake Regulation System and Nicola Dam, and included an extensive analysis of the information, data and models used to make decisions on both systems.

The ministry has already started implementing some of the report’s recommendations and is developing an action plan to address the remaining recommendations.

At the request of the B.C. government, George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman are conducting a similar strategic review of the 2017 freshet and wildfire seasons. The B.C. Flood and Wildfire Review will provide a comprehensive assessment of government activities related to planning and preparedness; prevention and mitigation; response; and recovery.

It’s anticipated that Abbott and Chapman will take the findings of the Thompson Okanagan technical flood review into account in their report, which is expected to be delivered by April 30.

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