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Rural Similkameen residents feel forgotten after flood

Residents on their own if they want damaged dikes fixed
After and before picture shows the edge of the dike along the River Valley RV Park. (Ronda Wilkins - Submitted)

With a national spotlight on the Interior following the unprecedented winter flooding, some residents in the rural areas outside the main communities are feeling left behind.

Support has poured in from across the country for Princeton, Merritt and Hope, but for those who live along the Similkameen River, the damage and struggle is still ongoing.

Ronda Wilkins, who owns the River Valley RV Park off Highway 3 just west of Keremeos, is sounding the alarm after their business was flooded when the nearby orphaned dike failed and they were the ones told to fix it. It’s not for her own sake that she is being vocal, but for others who are wary of speaking against the government when they need support, or who are too focused on dealing with the damage of the flood and trauma of the experience.

“It’s not about us, we’ll be fine, it’s the little old ladies next door that you have to tell the water is coming,” Wilkins told the Review.

“If you talk along the river, I’m sure people will tell you how much help they received – we all did it all ourselves. People lost their homes, they had farms, businesses all along the river and we had to do it all ourselves.”

READ MORE: B.C. reviewing responsibility for orphaned dikes such as those near Keremeos, Princeton

The November flooding swelled the Similkameen River, and it punched through the orphan dike exactly where Wilkins had identified a weak spot to regional and provincial authorities, caused in part by the dike being built in a way to keep it off federal land, according to Wilkins, which gave the river a singular point to hammer.

“I told them in July that it was slumping in, and sent them pictures and told them that it needed to be fixed before the spring,” said Wilkins. “Now they want homeowners to take on dikes that are 15, 20 years old. Thank god they held that long because ours only held for three years.”

Despite assurances that the dike had been red-flagged as an issue, including in a 2019 flood risk study, nothing was done to fix the issues. It’s a pattern Wilkins saw repeated across B.C.

“Why are you wasting our paying taxpayer dollars for studies only to tell us what to do?” Wilkins asked. “They paid all the studies, did all the research, and they did nothing, and look at the millions and billions the taxpayers are going to have pay for the dikes all across the province.”

When the river started to rise crews showed up to shore up the nearby Riverside Estates, only to be pulled out.

“We had equipment on site within three hours, sitting here,” said Wilkins. “All I needed was permission to build up the bank on this side and I probably would have saved the $30,000 that I have to put out now. But they were in a meeting and when they finished they told us we were being evacuated instead.”

The damaged section lost four feet off the top, and is now just a bare pile of rocks, and despite being called to repair the 60-foot hole, there has been little support.

With the government telling her the dike isn’t gettting filled, Wilkins won’t be moved on fixing it on her own, despite the risk it poses downriver.

“If [the dike] isn’t fixed, it won’t make it. There’s no protection there at all now and the river will be 650 metres wider,” Wilkins said. “Bottom line, our property will be safe and secure, but we’ll do it without repairing that dike.”

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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