News

Year in Review No. 2: Wild and wacky weather

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

West Kootenay experienced more than its share of weather-related mayhem this year, some with deadly consequences.

The signs were there in the spring: local snowpack levels were the second highest in 30 years. Cool weather allowed ongoing snow accumulation and delayed the melt by about three weeks.

The BC River Forecast Centre issued a flood watch in June and the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s emergency centre was activated as 16 homes and businesses were evacuated at Crawford Bay when a dyke failed. Highway 3A was also washed out near Gray Creek.

High water forced the closure of Nelson’s dog walk and the parking lot at the east end of the lakeside sports fields — although some people ignored the order.

On June 23, a Crescent Valley man who went to check on water levels and flooding on his Pass Creek Road property fell into Goose Creek and drowned.

The body of Edward Poznikoff, 72, was recovered the following day. He was last seen on a private bridge that connected his property to the road. The bridge washed out.

Local creeks and rivers continued to swell under intense rain, causing mudslides and road closures.

States of local emergency were declared and evacuation orders issued for parts of Pass Creek and the Slocan Valley.

A landslide on Kemp Creek took out Kaslo’s water intake, leading to a water quality advisory and strict conservation measures banning outdoor water use.

Public works put up a temporary intake while a replacement was built. The latter finally became operational this month with the province paying the $400,000 cost under a disaster relief fund.

Canada Day fireworks were cancelled in Nelson following a huge deluge that flooded the staging area. “It was like a mass exodus of tents and people scurrying out of the park like ants,” said Chamber of Commerce boss Tom Thomson.

June’s rain total nearly doubled the previous record. In July, Kootenay Lake peaked at its highest level since 1974, and Lakeside Park was no longer lakeside. It was possible to paddle a canoe through the playing fields. The city pumped water out of the parking lot to restore access to the streetcar track, but the area soon flooded again.

BC Hydro asked the United States to take “all reasonable measures” to limit flood damage on both sides of the border following a resolution by the RDCK board, which contended high water on the Kootenay River wasn’t entirely Mother Nature’s fault but also due to discharges from Montana’s Libby dam.

The upshot was a letter from BC Hydro to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

But Glen Davidson, director of BC’s water management branch, said only so much could be done. “They’re trying to minimize the impacts,” he said. “They’re releasing just enough to offset the flows, but in these very high conditions there’s a limit to what you can do with your dams.”

A ferocious storm in mid-July caused plenty of other problems: sinkholes, sewer collapses, power outages, and flooded basements. “It’s frustrating because these unusual weather events are happening more and more frequently,” Nelson city operations engineer Allen Fillion said.

Power was out in Kaslo and on the East Shore for more than 24 hours during the Starbelly Jam weekend. “It was the longest [outage] I have ever seen in the summertime,” said Tom Lymbery of the Gray Creek Store.

As if that wasn’t enough, the tailings pond at the old HB mine near Salmo began to slough and seep from record rain.

High capacity pumps drew the pond down to a safe level, excavators filled in the cracks, and a supporting berm was built. A sinkhole in the dam was found to be the main cause.

Initial concerns eased after a few days, but it wasn’t a cheap fix: the bill came to $800,000. The regional district, which owns the site as part of its central landfill area, coordinated the response, but the provincial government picked up the tab.

2012 is set to go down as the wettest year on record in West Kootenay. The only upside, perhaps, was no major wildfires.

 

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