The first spell of summer-like weather in British Columbia has accelerated Mountain snowmelt, causing flooding and mudslides that have prompted evacuation orders and highway closures in the province’s southern Interior.
The mayor of Cache Creek said Thursday that it was “unbelievable the amount of water” that’s flowing over Highway 97 and down Highway 1 as the two routes intersect in the village west of Kamloops.
John Ranta said many businesses have been devastated by the flooding and the floodwaters are running through the firehall.
The mayor said he’s spoken with Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, who offered support from the province, and several BC Wildfire Service crews are in the village to help distribute sandbags.
But Ranta said there’s nothing they can do until the waters recede, then take steps to prevent similar extensive flooding from happening in the future.
Ma told reporters in the legislature that temperatures are expected to rise throughout the Interior,and with rain in the forecast, increased run-off is likely to push stream flows even higher.
“Unfortunately, it is likely that some of these communities are going to see conditions get worse in the immediate short term before they get better.”
Ma is scheduled to provide an update alongside staff from B.C.’s River Forecast Centre and the BC Wildfire Service on Thursday afternoon.
The number of properties under evacuation order in Cache Creek has ticked up to 13 from five on Wednesday. Ranta said one home is likely lost.
The Okanagan Indian Band has expanded an evacuation order for properties along Okanagan Lake in the community of Parker Cove, where it says floodwaters from Whiteman Creek have eroded land and undercut trees.
Temperature records were broken in 10 B.C. communities on Wednesday, including several where flooding is a risk. Yoho National Park reached 25.3 C, more than three degrees above the record set back in 1923.
Environment Canada says rain, at times heavy, is also moving in across the southern Interior on Friday and through the weekend.
A statement from the B.C. government says conditions in areas that are currently flooding, including Cache Creek and Okanagan Indian Band territory, were expected to deteriorate, while “moderate flooding” was likely in Grand Forks starting Friday.
An update posted on the Grand Forks website says local fire crews were working on a temporary dam nearly 460 metres long to protect one of areas that’s most vulnerable to flooding in the community near the Canada-U. S. border.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has declared a state of local emergency and issued an evacuation order for 10 properties in Grand Forks as water levels rise on the Kettle River.
Grand Forks Mayor Everett Baker said Thursday his community has been preparing for the wet weather expected this weekend.
Baker said the city has received temporary dams, sandbags and other assets from the province to prepare for flooding, with past events top of mind after Grand Forks lost nearly a hundred homes to rising waters back in 2018.
He said crews are concentrating efforts to protect homes, businesses, and infrastructure in the city’s downtown, while properties in the outlying areas are harder to support and those living there are aware they are on a floodplain.
Baker said his daughter lost her home in the last major flooding event, so he’s keenly aware of the stress of another potential disaster.
“That’s why I know myself and council and our city staff decided this time that we were going to try to be as proactive as possible and get out the protection that we can sooner than later,” he said.
“Then hopefully we’ll have done enough to protect the city.”
The Regional District of Central Kootenay has put three more properties on evacuation alert in response to a landslide and debris flowing from Talbot Creek in the community of Vallican, where photos shared by the district show the water has carved a deep channel through Little Slocan South Road.
Another mudslide has forced the closure of an 80-kilometre stretch of Highway 3 between Salmo and Creston, causing longer wait times for the Kootenay Lake ferry.
Highway 3 is also closed in both directions due to flooding about 15 kilometres east of Castlegar, while a short stretch of Highway 99 is closed due to flooding about 67 kilometres north of Lillooet, with assessments underway in both areas.
Heading into the weekend, the province’s statement issued late Wednesday says “significant flood hazard is expected throughout small and medium-sized watersheds in the Central Interior, Okanagan, Boundary and Southern Kootenays.”
It says sandbags and other barriers have been deployed to at-risk communities, and people in affected areas are encouraged to make household emergency plans.
The City of Penticton says it has set up a sandbag station as a precautionary measure, saying water levels in Penticton and Ellis creeks have risen, but officials are confident the creeks and surrounding lakes will be able to absorb the water.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.