‘We’re not out of it:’ B.C. Interior residents warned sunny days don’t mean flood risk is over
Dale Mayer’s home along the banks of Mission Creek in Kelowna, B.C., is usually a blissful haven.
The large red house with a sprawling backyard is close to downtown but the large trees on the property, coupled with the creek flowing by, make it feel like a sanctuary.
But Friday morning, that sanctuary was more like a fortress as Mayer surrounded herself with 1,000 sandbags along the front and back of her home to guard against the now-raging creek.
“You prepare for the worst and you hope for the best. But at the same time, afterwards you look at it and think, ‘Wow, that was a lot of work,’ ” Mayer said.
With the sun shining through the tree canopy and the river keeping within its boundaries, Mayer felt both frustration and relief.
“Relief because we didn’t get the big flood, frustration because we did so much prep and you wonder if too much was made of the event,” she said.
“I think I’ll take the data with a little bit more doubt next time … I’ll take the information with a little bit more of a grain of salt — or sand.”
‘We’re not out of it’
The City of Kelowna has been warning residents for days about the imminent risk of unprecedented flooding in the city caused by a combination of melting snowpack, heavy rain and saturated ground.
But the shorts-and-T-shirt weather most of Friday left some residents doubting the severity of the risk.
This doubt was frustrating for Emergency Operations Centre director Ron Mattiussi, who has been cautioning residents to prepare their homes and remain on alert for the next few days.
Mattiussi said in the 10 years he has served in his role, he has never seen a situation with so many complex and quickly changing variables.
“This is a bit like whack-a-mole,” Mattiussi said. “We’re not out of it.”
He and his fellow crew members watched late Thursday night as the city dodged each passing rain cloud like a bullet.
Mattiusi said Okanagan Lake is full and still rising by four centimetres a day, expected to peak by mid-June.
But the city’s more pressing concern is the volatile weather that could affect the quickly moving and rising rivers.
Downtown Kelowna resident Eric Leung was happy to do his duty and follow the city’s advice.
“You live in Kelowna, you live on a beautiful creek, you have to get ready for that, right? I call it opportunity costs,” said Leung, who moved to Kelowna from Richmond, B.C., less than two years ago.
Water from Mission Creek already crept across his backyard last week.
By Friday afternoon, Leung had been putting sandbags up around his property for three days. He even enlisted the help of his in-laws who were visiting from Hong Kong for a few months.
But while Leung was willing to do his part to protect his home, he wished the city would do more in terms of long-term planning.
“This is not a one-day issue,” Leung said.
He suggested city officials put a 10-year plan in place, which could include simple fixes like helping homeowners by simplifying the building permits process for dykes.
‘There wasn’t any warning’
Others say warnings about the severity of flood risk would have been more helpful last week.
A quick drive north from Kelowna, in Lake Country, resident Al Beattie has a backyard that looks more like a water bird sanctuary than the orchard he hoped it would become.
Ducks and geese swim beneath his apples trees in water waist-deep that flows from the creek that normally meanders through his community.
“There wasn’t any warning at all,” Beattie said of the flooding. His was one of many homes in Lake Country damaged by the floods.
The only power he gets now comes from a generator, which he says is “a pain in the butt.” As for insurance, he said he doesn’t have much.
Beattie said the creek swells each spring, but he’s never seen anything like this in the 29 years he’s lived there.
Nor does he expect it to happen again soon, despite regional warnings.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any higher,” he said. “But I can’t read the future.”