The threat of higher water in the Shuswap appears to have ebbed for the next few days, but provincial crews have arrived to help prepare for what’s forecast for next week.
Seventeen B.C. wildfire crew members have set up in Salmon Arm, putting their muscles and expertise to work augmenting residents’ efforts to stave off further flooding.
When their work will be tested remains to be seen. Like the rivers and creeks, the forecast for peak water levels changes from day to day.
As of Tuesday, May 15, officials were predicting that this week will see stream flows remain relatively stable, but next week peak levels are expected.
Derek Sutherland, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s team leader with protective services, says river flow levels of 80 cubic metres per second are forecast for the middle of next week – around the 23rd or 24th.
To put that level into perspective, the overnight surge on May 9 and 10 that’s been called a 100-year flood was measured at 77.7, so next week it’s possible the flooding could be even worse. On Sunday, Salmon River levels had receded to the high 50s.
“It’s a bit of a reprieve,” Sutherland says of this week’s forecast, “but we have the unit crews working to help support the sandbagging situation in the Salmon River Valley.”
He says the crews, who are staying in a hotel, are here to work 10 hours a day for seven days.
“These guys are pros. They’re experts in sandbagging, fit young men and women. They can get a lot done in a short amount of time.”
Properties have been triaged based on factors such as how vulnerable the residents are, how close they are to flood water and what the consequences will be for their property if stream flows reach 80, Sutherland says.
“They come equipped ready to work, they don’t even need us to get them a lunch,” he enthuses about the crews. “They’re used to being deployed.”
“What we’re looking at, many of our residents in the Salmon River Valley, they’re exhausted, they’re stressed, sandbagging is really taking a toll on them. We’re hoping to get a lot of work done in a relatively short amount of time.”
Tuesday morning the crews were at DeMille’s Farm Market, placing gabion baskets and sandbags to halt the river that crept into the market’s parking lot last week – the highest that owner Brad DeMille has ever seen it. Gabion baskets are like a faster, higher, bigger sandbag, Sutherland explains.
Crews were also heading to properties along Salmon River Road.
Sutherland says although the snowpack on the immediate hills is all but gone, snow from mountains farther away will still impact local creeks.
“The saving grace is that there’s no rain in the forecast. If that changes and there is rain to add to the snow melt, we would expect the stream flows to increase.”
If residents require support, including sand and sandbags, they’re asked to contact the Shuswap Emergency Program at 250-832-2424.
As for other areas in the region, such as Sunnybrae, Sutherland says landslides, unlike floods, are a lot more difficult to predict. However, the CSRD is participating in a mapping project to identify flood risks there.
He says there is still some debris above the 4400 block of Sunnybrae-Canoe Point Road, and a couple of houses are on longstanding evacuation alerts and one is on an evacuation order.
“We’re keeping our eye on those situations…”
Skimikin Lake has flooded over the road in the CSRD, but Sutherland says it’s “not an overly serious situation.”
The CSRD also reports that the Reinecker Creek trail system is closed due to high creek levels. In the same area, BC Parks has closed the Upper Herald trail that links to Reinecker. And the popular Margaret Falls trail remains closed for the season for repairs from last year’s floods.