This past spring water rushed down Sportsmens Bowl Road near the junction with Highway 97. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

Water woes continue to plague rural Oliver

Further flooding imminent if heavy rain comes to rural Oliver

Before even being sworn-in, the new director representing rural Oliver is already fed up with government bureaucracy.

Rick Knodel, who was recently elected to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen as director for Area C (Rural Oliver) said residents in Willowbrook area are suffering while different levels of government are working through how to handle flooding. Knodel previously sat as the alternate for the area.

“They’ve (the residents) lost confidence with the Ministry of Forests (Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development). In all honesty the RDOS has very little to do with this in the first place. It’s not their game. The entire power stands with the Ministry of Forests and a little bit in Parks B.C.,” he said.

“Really, my job is to try desperately to get all the parties at the same table to find a solution.”

Almost seven months ago, a heavy rain event, followed by an extreme freshet, caused massive flooding in the Park Rill, Sportsmen Bowl and Willowbrook area all in rural Oliver. During flooding a portion of the creek was diverted and continues to run along the road.

Related: Frustrations overflow at Oliver flooding meeting

A local state of emergency is still in place in the area as the risk of imminent flooding during heavy rainfall is still very real for residents.

Staff at the regional district have stated numerous times that without an established service area they cannot perform regular drainage maintenance. Provincial funding generally comes in the form of emergency response – not mitigation efforts.

Knodel said as the area’s director he is not going to tax residents to mitigate flooding in the area.

“They can’t afford it. Some of the residents had a $3,000 tax bill increase because of the mismanagement of the RDOS,” he said referring to tax increases related to the volunteer fire department and the regional government taking over the water system.

Knodel said there are several issues going on that almost all require permitting from the FLNROD.

He noted a specific area on Myers’ Flats where the creek bed had been raised 4.5 to five-feet by FLNROD sometime in the past while work was underway to remove invasive species in the area.

“That shouldn’t be a tax issue. They created it they should be fixing it,” he said.

Related: More pumps being installed

Knodel said by talking with residents in the area he has found many in favour of one-time donation to fix some of the problems in the water system so the risk of flooding is reduced, but they are not for an ongoing tax.

“If we go ahead and create a service area they will collect taxes year after year and eventually we will be back in a drought position and those funds will not be used and then we don’t know where they go,” he said.

At this point the one-time donation does not fit into RDOS legislation as it opens issues of who is responsible for the water system going forward and liability if something went wrong.

Knodel said other issues are at play including silt collecting, and when the waterway crosses private property and private homeowners want to do work to clear out the creeks and tributaries.

“Where the creek crosses part of private land and they want to do work on it it takes 18 months to two years to get approval to do that if they get approval. Ministry of Forests have reaped all the benefits all these years collecting money from cattle range licenses, hunting licenses, all kinds of things and they should be responsible,” he said.

F0llowing the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in September the RDOS has obtained provincial funding from EMBC to conduct a Flood Response Assessment of the Park Rill watershed. The assessment will review available options for the watershed and investigate associated impacts, risks and benefits as well as cost estimates for work. The assessment is expected complete by the end of January.

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@TaraBowieBC
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