“I hope I’m wasting my time here.”
Russ Tompkins makes this comment as he shovels dirt into sandbags Friday before stacking them a couple of metres from the rising lake.
Tompkins is one of many Shuswap residents who have been preparing for rising lake levels. As of Tuesday, lake levels were reported at 348.74 meters. In 2012, a recent high level year, they reached 349.44. Back in 1972, listed as a prominent flood year, city records show Shuswap Lake peaked at 349.66 meters.
Tompkins and his spouse Sandra live on the lake near the red wharf in Canoe.
The house has been in their family for 30 years but they bought it about four years ago. He explains that the people who owned it in 1972, one of the highest years on record for lake levels, raised the house to escape flooding.
“But this might be the year the house gets wet.”
If the water comes up to ’72 levels, they should be OK, he says. However, if the lake reaches the levels it did in 1948, that might be another story. By Tuesday, though, he said the lake had slowed down a bit; it would have to rise another foot to reach his house and another three feet to be in the house.
Tompkins has a one-person set-up for sandbagging that has been working well, allowing him to do more than 100 bags in an hour. He puts plastic flower containers inside the bags and then slips them into a wooden bench structure with three holes. The holes are just the right size to keep the bag pinched between the pot and the wooden circle as he shovels sand into the bag.
“Sandbagging, it’s a stress reliever for me,” he says, explaining he’s trying to retire so he would rather not see the house damaged.
“You can’t stop the water from coming in, but you can stop the debris.”
Farther to the west along the shore of the lake, another Russ, Russ Skinner, is also focused on sandbagging and flood protection.
Skinner and his spouse Hilda have leased one of the city lots close to the boat launch and paddling centre beyond Canoe Beach for about a dozen years.
On Friday, a crew of four or five people was helping him fill sandbags as well as attach plastic sheeting from his deck to the ground. Last year he put out about 1,000 sandbags, and fewer in 2012 when the lake was also high. They both worked, he says, but a sump pump was still necessary as water leaches under the sandbags.
“I have my own personal water fountain as soon as the water gets under the deck,” he smiles, referring to the water being pumped back into the lake. “It’s a whole new experience for a prairie boy.”
This year he’s put two or three rows of sandbags in front of the plastic, in hopes it will stop the water. By Tuesday, the lake had reached the sandbags and a couple of logs with nails had rolled in, poking at the plastic.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he says of protection efforts.
He recalls a storm last year that produced three-foot waves pounding at the shore, as well as the not-so-thoughtful boaters who would sometimes fly by, creating large waves.
Overall, though, Skinner remains philosophical.
“You live on a lake that has a normal rise and fall of 13 or 14 feet – expect flooding. Same as if you live in a forest; expect a fire.”
Related: Video – Peak levels for Salmon River downgraded
Derek Sutherland, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s team leader with protective services, said Tuesday that Shuswap Lake has been coming up about 13 to 14 centimetres (about five inches) per day, but slowed down a bit to eight or nine centimetres when temperatures cooled. However, while the Eagle River, Salmon River, Seymour River and now Shuswap River flows are going down, the current warm temperatures may mean a continued rise for the lake, as could the rain that’s forecast for the weekend.
“We’re doing our best to prepare for a 350-meter (lake) level,” Sutherland said. “That’s extraordinarily high but we want to be prepared.”
He said the lake traditionally peaks the second week of June, but everything started about two weeks early this spring.
“It started a lot earlier this year, but it’s not expected to finish any earlier.”
Related: 2012 – Lake continues to rise, more rain expected
At Canoe Beach on the long weekend, members of provincial wildfire crews were stacking sandbags to protect the pump station that is part of the City of Salmon Arm’s water system.
Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, says the provincial Ministry of Environment monitors the lake in terms of manure or sewage that may have made its way there via the Salmon River.
“This would be an MOE issue; as you know there is a huge volume of water entering the lake at the moment so I would suspect that the dilution factor would lessen these concerns.”
The city’s monitoring of lake water is set out by its operating permits with the province.
“For instance, at the water pollution control centre we monitor the raw lake water every two months from April to October and the test results are all submitted to MOE.”
Niewenhuizen says there are no current concerns with the city’s drinking water quality.
“The city’s water treatment plant is capable of dealing with most issues and if we cannot meet these requirement to ensure safe water quality, then the city must notify the public when there is a potential or actual problem.”
The lake is the city’s primary source of potable water but it’s supplemented with water from the Metford Dam. However, the turbidity levels at the dam are currently too high so it has been turned off until the freshet is over.