The mayor of Grand Forks, B.C., says he’s confident the community’s downtown is prepared for a 200-year flood, as the rain begins to fall in earnest in the community.
The city of about 4,100 residents, not far from the Canada-U. S. border, already endured a major flood in 2018 and is one of several currently threatened by rising waters throughout B.C.’s southern and central Interior.
Mayor Everett Baker said they’ve protected what they can.
“I have great confidence in our flood mitigation program that will do the job it needs to do in the downtown core and protect industry,” he said, while watching the rain come down from his office window on Friday.
“Is it enough? I guess Monday morning will tell that story.”
A week of record temperatures melted mountain snow packs and heavy rain in the forecast through the weekend have combined to create conditions ripe for flooding.
Environment Canada says 19 daily heat records were broken in the south and central Interior on Thursday, including in Kelowna, which exceeded a peak set in 1900.
The weather office has issued severe thunderstorm watches for the Boundary and Okanagan regions, saying heavy downpours are likely to cause flash floods.
A lower-level bulletin covers the neighbouring West Kootenay region, where Environment Canada says heavy rain could contribute to mudslides and flooding.
The rain is expected to persist through Saturday night.
Parts of the Village of Cache Creek, about 80 kilometres west of Kamloops, remain inundated by floodwaters that flowed through the community’s firehall as well as businesses and several homes.
Village Mayor John Ranta said Thursday that the normally babbling brook has become a raging river and setting up barriers hasn’t kept the floodwaters at bay.
An update posted to the village’s Facebook page on Friday says 21 properties have been evacuated, with more on alert as floodwaters cut through the downtown.
Highways 1 and 97 had been closed in both directions as they intersect Cache Creek, but the routes have since reopened to single-lane alternating traffic.
The Okanagan Indian Band has placed several properties on evacuation order in the neighbourhood of Parker Cove on Okanagan Lake, west of Vernon, where it says floodwaters from Whiteman Creek have eroded land and undercut trees.
Baker said officials with Grand Forks have been working to shore up the city’s defences since the spring of 2018, when 95 homes were lost to a flood.
He said they’re currently predicting a situation that doesn’t hit that level but “obviously there’s concern.”
So far, 10 properties in the city are under evacuation order while another 34 have been placed on evacuation alert due to flood risk.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has issued an alert for an additional 591 properties affecting an estimated 1,182 people in the surrounding area.
Baker said the province has supplied the city with temporary dams and sandbags, installed with the help of BC Wildfire Service staff, and that they’re focusing on protecting the downtown from rising waters in the Kettle and Granby rivers.
He said many residents don’t qualify for overland flood insurance and, depending on how things progress this weekend, the community would have to ask for financial help from the provincial and federal governments to cover any damages.
The mayor said he’s confident the other levels of government would step up to help and that Minister of Emergency Management Bowinn Ma has called him to see how the community is doing.
In an update Thursday, Ma said Grand Forks had done an “enormous amount” of flood mitigation work, which other communities could emulate.
She said the upgrade to the diking system is one important measure, but their flood mitigation strategy is about much more.
“They’ve actually actively worked with community members to move properties out of flood prone areas in a strategy known as planned retreat,” Ma said. “These are very important strategies, they are difficult for communities to work through, and Grand Forks has managed to do that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.