Okanagan flooding reoccurrence feared

Okanagan Basin Water Board wants help from NDP government

The Okanagan Basin Water Board wants the new NDP cabinet to bone up quickly on the challenges weather changes are imposing on Okanagan communities.

The board has sent a letter to Premier John Horgan outlining the need for his government to increase financial commitments and resources for both climate change mitigation and adaptation measures across the valley

OBWB director Doug Findlater, mayor of West Kelowna, said the flooding that occurred this past spring across the Okanagan Lake watershed was caused by circumstances that could easily reoccur next year.

“There are lessons to be learned from what happened this year, and we can’t just say, ‘Oh shucks, the water levels have gone down so let’s move on and forget about it now,’” Findlater said.

In the letter, the water board is requesting Horgan retain a ministry, or ministry of state, for emergency preparedness in response to increasing risk of a major earthquake, flood and wildfire.

“As our climate changes, B.C. is experiencing a new weather reality, and the impact this is having on individuals across the province reinforces the need to improve resiliency, to better understand the risks we face, and to increase and reap the benefits of investments in adaptation measures to help communities respond,” stated the letter.

Other measures recommended include increased support at the local level for better land use planning and floodplain mapping, improvements in flood resilience infrastructure, restoration of natural capital and increased investment in storm and waste water infrastructure.

Beyond emergency preparedness, the water board also wants other government ministries to prepare for climate change impacts such as new and expanded health risks, changing infrastructure and land use implications, and new opportunities and challenges for trade and the economy.

“Integrating adaptation across ministries will ensure a consistent approach across government, increase efficiency and maximize communities’ resilience to risk,” said the letter.

Findlater said he also advocates for an independent assessment of why the flooding happened and what can be done differently to address a similar weather scenario in the future.

“It’s a lot more complicated than just about a guy pulling the trigger to release water from the Okanagan Lake dam downstream,” Findlater said.

“All indications were at the beginning of April that snowpack levels were 70 per cent of normal and we were headed for a serious drought this summer. Then later in the month we were hit by a lot of rain and more snow in late April and into early May.”

“I just feel there is no reason why that same weather pattern couldn’t happen again next year.”

He says climate change is changing the accepted weather standards and all levels of government have to respond to those realities.

“Where we go from here can’t be lost in the shuffle amidst the transition to a new government and new cabinet ministers coming in.”

Findlater noted that responding to the flooding issues has impacted the infrastructure and public works project agenda for his city this summer.

“There are things we planned to address that we just won’t get to now because of the resources required for us to deal with flooding issues,” he said.