Kelowna city manager Ron Mattiussi, Bob Warner of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Tara Hirsekorn of Water’s Edge Engineering with a map of no wake/low wake areas of Okanagan Lake.—Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Central Okanagan flood responders move into recovery mode

Officials say recovery from the recent flooding could take at least another month.

Update—Thursday July 6, 2017: On Thursday, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre reported the level of Okanagan Lake had dropped to 342.927 metres above sea level, a drop of 2.2 centimetres comparedwith Wednesday. The level of Kalamalka Lake decreased 1.1 centimetres overnight, and sat at 392.153 metres above sea level Thursday.

Original story: Emergency operations officials provided an update Wednesday on how the response to flooding is switching to a demobilization and recovery process.

On the two-month anniversary of the start of the emergency, officials described the magnitude of the response operation and how the demobilization of flood protection measures will proceed.

It took 160 B.C. Wildfire Service crews six weeks to deploy the two million sandbags, five-kilometres of bladder dams and 1.3 kilometres of gabion baskets. It will take at least another month to remove all the sandbags.

Work on demobilization began last week and will proceed in stages as lakes recede from shorelines throughout the Central Okanagan. The interim stage began with removal of sandbags from areas no longer at risk. Bladder dam removals also started last week and will continue in locations that no longer need the protection.

“We’re doing what we can to remove protection measures in areas where it’s safe to do so,” said Andrew Huntsberger, planning director at the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre. “It’s not a quick process. It’s going to take 150 or 200 per cent of what it took to put those measures up in the first place.”

Property owners with sandbag walls can begin to lower them, but should maintain a wall that protects against wind and wave action to a height of 60 centimetres above the current lake level. Okanagan and Kalamalka lakes remain about 47 centimetres above full-pool.

Residents with sandbags that are no longer necessary can take them to the roadside of their property, where work crews will be travelling through neighbourhoods to collect them. Under no circumstances should sandbags be emptied into any creeks, lakes, wetlands, beaches or other natural areas, said EOC Huntsberger. The sand will be taken to local gravel pits and municipal works yards where it will be used on roads in the winter. Provincial rules say the sand—if it has come in contact with water—cannot be deposited into lakes, creeks, on beaches or used for residential use.

The second stage of the removal process will accomplish the full demobilization of all flood protection – a process expected to continue into August. Crews will remove any remaining protective barriers on both private and public land. Neighbourhoods will be notified via Emergency Operations Center communications channels, electronic signboards and the media. Residents are encouraged to sign up for e-updates at cordemergency.ca.

When the level of Okanagan Lake reaches 342.60 metres above sea level, most beaches are expected to reopen, and most docks should be above water again. When the lake returns to its normal full-pool level of 342.48, all beaches will reopen and boating activity can return to normal.

The province is funding the removal of unnatural debris from public land – broken docks, unregistered boats, garbage and barrels – along with large trees or stumps. Removal of these materials will happen first in public beaches, parks.

Ian Wilson with the ECO’s operations section said approximately 360 docks and 200 pieces of large wood debris have already been identified in the lake from aerial photos.

Small debris on private property will be the responsibility of residents.That debris can be placed in green yard waste bins for curbside collection.

Damaged docks and pilings will be the responsibility of property owners. But Bob Warner of the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry said property owners who lost docks in the flooding will require permits from the province to rebuild them, and will only be allowed to do so if the docks are legal.

For residents in areas were the flooding risk has passed, more information about sandbag locations for drop off, details about recovery efforts, and a link to the online Emergency Management BC sandbag recovery application, can be found at www.cordemergency.ca/beprepared/flood-recovery.

Meanwhile, the EOC said water sampling in Kelowna creeks and the lake show area beaches—now beginning to re-open— are safe for swimming in terms of water quality. But users are being warned to watch for debris in the water. As that debris washes up on local beaches, it will be collected and carted away by the city.

Residents and visitors who want to boat on area lakes are encouraged follow the guidelines for respectful boating. They’re encouraged to view the Boating Wake maps at www.cordemergency.ca/map in order to protect against wave generated shoreline erosion. Once lake levels reach more reasonable levels, regular boating activities can resume.

Tara Hirsekorn of Water’s Edge Engineering said with the lake still at a relatively high level, the shore is vulnerable to erosion caused by wakes from passing boats. The EOC has developed a “no wake/low wake” areas map of the lake. It is available at cordemergency.ca.

Okanagan Lake dropped 1.5 centimetres over the past 24 hours and is now at 342.949 metres above sea level while Kalamalka Lake decreased 1.5 centimetres and is now at 392.164 metres.

For municipal information such as boat launch, park and beach closures, and water quality advisories, visit individual municipal websites.

For beach water quality updates, visit Interior Health’s water samples page at www.interiorhealth.ca.

(Updated to include comments from EOC officials made during Wednesday morning’s news conference.)

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