As the Kootenay River continues to rise, the Regional District of Central Kootenay is asking the premier to intervene.
“It’s just a question of having someone at a higher political level assisting local government in making sure what’s being done is appropriate,” said rural Kaslo director Andy Shadrack, who introduced the motion adopted Thursday.
Directors contend this year’s near-record levels on the river and lake are not merely the result of Mother Nature, but of discharges from Montana’s Libby dam, operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“I want the premier to intervene to make sure the discharges are necessary and not causing undue hardship,” Shadrack said.
FortisBC has warned water levels on Kootenay Lake could exceed 1,753 feet at Queens Bay in the next few days, which would be the highest since 1974.
On Thursday, lake levels stood at 1,752.1 feet (534 m), a slight decline from the previous three days.
The utility company says lake levels are “predominantly” driven by natural inflows as a result of melting snow pack and precipitation, and it has been operating the Kootenay River system at maximum discharge since mid-March.
Shadrack says a storm on Kootenay Lake two weeks ago resulted in waves two to three feet high, and damaged a number of marinas.
Some basements at Mirror Lake have flooded, while a breakwater at Jones Boys Boats at Woodbury was breached, forcing them to move all their vessels onto dry land. (The company has posted a video of the evacuation on its website.)
Shadrack is concerned damage from the next windstorm will be even more severe.
Meanwhile, a rural Creston director is warning of potential “catastrophic effects” if the Kootenay River rises another two feet this weekend.
Larry Binks says in some areas, the river is within ten inches of spilling its banks.
“We could have thousands and thousands of gallons of water spreading over maybe 1,000 acres of farm land under seed right now,” he said. “That will start to rot the seed, and the farmers’ oats and barley will become nonexistent.”
Binks said he’s never seen the water this high on the river dikes.
Rural Salmo director Hans Cunningham and Kaslo director Greg Lay opposed the motion to ask the premier to step in.
Kettle decries ‘self-inflicted’ damage
Regional district chair John Kettle, who contends most of the flooding problems experienced this spring in the Creston area are “self-inflicted,” plans to take a novel approach: he’ll declare a state of emergency as a preventative step.
Noting that emergency orders activate funding and tools that are otherwise unavailable, Kettle says he wants to see how far he can push the idea.
He’s concerned flooding on the Goat River near Highway 21 has become a recurring problem.
“This is a self-inflicted problem in my opinion,” he said. “It needs remediation, not fixes after the flood damage has been done.”
He blamed federal regulations to protect fish habitat, and wants the issue addressed before another season of flooding affects properties.
“To preserve every inch of a river and call it fish habitat is ridiculous,” he said, adding that he did get Department of Fishers and Oceans approval to move equipment in to prevent further erosion to the river banks.
“Our senior levels of government are willing to spend millions of dollars after the damage is done, but they won’t spend anything to prevent it — it doesn’t make sense.”
Kettle says his plan is to declare a local state of emergency in August to remediate those areas where flooding occurred this spring — resulting in other emergency orders, road closures, and evacuations.
He acknowledges, however, that he is testing the system.
— With files from Lorne Eckersley, Creston Valley Advance