Snow measurment.—Image credit: Pixabay

Snow pack, boaters both concerns for flood watchers

Central Okanagan officials worried about large snow pack and speeding boaters on lake this weekend.

With concerns about more flooding in the Central Okanagan rising as quickly as the water level in Okanagan Lake, the situation in the hills above Kelowna is also on the minds of many.

And with the May long weekend here, concern is also turning to boaters who use the lakes and the amount of debris in Okanagna Lake.

The latest official snow pack figures will not be released until next week, but officials in Kelowna say they already know there is still plenty of snow at higher elevations above Mission Creek, the largest source of water flowing into Okanagan Lake.

At the start of the month, the Okanagan had the highest snow pack in the province at 147 per cent of normal. While higher elevation snow has melted, more snow has fallen in the surrounding mountains in the last week.

The rate at which that snow melts will be a big influence on whether properties along the lake are flooded in the coming days. In fact, given the announcement by the province that it expects to be releasing water from Okanagan Lake until mid-summer, the flood threat may not ease anytime soon.

The lake level rose three centimetres in just one night earlier this week, twice the rate of release possible down stream.

Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, said she has been keeping an eye on the snow pillows in the hills above both Kelowna and the Westside, and while the one located at Brenda Mines above Peachland is now near normal, the one above Mission Creek in Kelowna is much higher than normal. A snow pillow is an amount of snow collected and measured to figure out how much water is in it. Heavy packed snow contains much more water than light, fluffy powder snow, said Warwick Sears.

That means continued warm weather could melt the snow quickly, sending more water down local creeks into the lake, raising the lake level beyond the near-flood stage where it currently stands.

On Thursday, Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre officials said the lake level was 342.75 metres, just off the 1990 level of 342.86 metres, when flooding occurred.

As a result, flood-prevention measures—including extensive sandbagging and the installation of hundreds of metres of bladder dams—have been undertaken on both sides of the lake. Two large pumps are also running 24-hours a day near Kelowna General Hospital to keep the city’s storm drains in that area clear.

The Victoria Day long-weekend brings a new threat—wave action on the lake from boats.

The EOC is concerned wakes from speeding boats could create waves that would push more water onshore, causing flooding even before the lake level rises more.

So, boaters are being urged to keep their speed down when on the lake, especially if they are anywhere near the shore.

“The general rule is no more than 10 kilometres-per-hour within 30 metres of the shore,” said EOC spokeswoman Jodie Foster-Sexsmith.

Another concern for boaters is debris in the lake, washed down from local creeks.

While all Central Okanagan boat launches are currently open, the EOC is monitoring the situation and say they could be closed if necessary.

The RCMP plans to have officers and its patrol boat out on the lake this weekend watching for speeding boats.

Some local marine shops have even gone so far as to advise boat owners not to take their boats out on the lake this weekend because of both the flooding concern and the problem of debris floating just below the surface of the water.

Striking debris, such as submerged logs, could damage a boat’s propeller or, worse, sink a boat, they say.

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