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Kootenay Lake rising
Water levels on Kootenay Lake are expected to peak at their highest levels in 14 years, leading some homeowners to start sandbagging.
According to FortisBC, as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, the lake elevation at Queens Bay was 1,748 feet (533 m) and 1,746 feet (532 m) at Nelson.
Levels have been rising several inches per day and are projected to top out at between 1,752 and 1,754 feet (534 and 535 m).
For Willow Point residents Eva and Jay McKimm, the key number is 1,750.
“That’s not the stage it would actually start flooding,” Eva says. “But we’ve got sandbagging organized for close to 1,750 — 1,752 is when we’re expecting water in the basement.”
She says they haven’t had to sandbag since 1997 when the lake reached nearly 1,753 feet. Back then, water pushed up around the edges of the house.
Their neighbours, seasonal residents from Alberta, put out sandbags over the weekend as a precaution.
“They have webcams on their house because they’re not here,” she says. “They’re right on the beach, and I assume they’re watching it pretty closely.”
Last week water levels near the McKimm property rose four inches each night, then two inches per night from the 18th to the 22nd, and finally six and four inches on Sunday and Monday nights. The water rises less on sunny days when it’s cool at night, and more when it’s overcast and rains.
Levels on Kootenay Lake are partly governed by an order from the International Joint Commission, which dictates how much water can be stored. Flows are regulated by FortisBC working with BC Hydro and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and affected by discharges from the Duncan and Libby dams.
Neil Pobran of FortisBC says since March, the Kootenay River system has been running at maximum capacity.
“We’re flowing as much water as we can,” he says. “But weather plays a major role. A quick rise in temperatures is less favorable. Slow and cool with no rain would be best case.”
While FortisBC’s Corra Linn dam can keep the flow back, during high runoff periods, enough gates are opened so that Grohman Narrows is the physical restriction, Pobran says.
Jay McKimm wonders if the Narrows could be opened up again, 80 years after it was last dredged, but regional district director Ron Mickel says such a plan would likely “run into resistance” from the Ministry of Environment and Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“If we get actual flooding on a few occasions, there might be a push,” he says. “It’s always a worry.”
Mickel says for the most part, it’s not permanent structures or septic systems that will be affected by high water, but breakwaters and wharfs.