The mudslide that obliterated the community of Oso, Washington last weekend brought back the feeling of helplessness in the face of the devastating power of nature that many of us in the West Kootenay experienced in the summer of 2012 in the aftermath of the Johnsons Landing landslide.
Reading the news reports and looking at the Google earth images of the area has led many people to question why the residents of Oso were allowed to build their houses at the toe of an active landslide that was identified by experts as an extreme risk for catastrophic failure?
How was it that the residents of Oso were unaware of the risk they were exposed to? Here in the West Kootenay residents are also exposed to risks from natural hazards that they are unaware of. Many of our communities along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake are located on active flood and debris flood/debris flow fans including the Duhamel, Sitkum, Redfish and Laird Creek areas.
These areas tend to be gently sloping or flat and so lend themselves to easy development. As well, in the Slocan Valley there are many who have built houses on top of or at the bottom of unstable glacial terrace scarps. Landslides smaller but similar to the one in Oso, Washington can been seen on Google earth along the Slocan and Little Slocan Rivers where these rivers are undercutting the unstable sediment deposits.
Unfortunately without proper geological hazards mapping and education programs the general public will continue to become victims of natural disasters. To avoid this scenario re-playing every several years or decades residents of the West Kootenay need to become educated about where these hazards exist, what are the trigger conditions that increase the likelihood of these events and what is the strategy to avoid becoming a victim of such events.
Our local municipal, regional and provincial governments need to be encouraged to undertake programs of hazard mapping, public education and development of community-based hazard avoidance strategies if we are to reduce the risk of more victims of natural disasters in the future. I would encourage residents of the West Kootenay to take this opportunity to contact their local regional and provincial representatives to let them know these programs are necessary if we are to remain safe in this beautiful but potentially deadly area.
Kim Green, P.Geo., PhD.