Heavy snowpack prompts regional warning

Over the course of the winter months, mountains throughout the Kootenays have accumulated 135 per cent of the normal snowpack

Over the course of the winter months, mountains throughout the Kootenays have accumulated 135 per cent of the normal snowpack, prompting the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) to issue a seasonal flooding reminder.

The current conditions have the potential to increase the severity of possible flooding, but the impact of a heavy snow pack depends largely upon the intensity of the runoff.

“It’s important to understand that the level of the snow pack is less significant than the way the melting occurs,” said RDEK Communications Manager Loree Duczek. “For example, if we have a stretch of warm days and cool nights, the melt will be completely different than if we go into a string of really hot days, warm nights and rain.”

In Fairmont Hot Springs, flooding caused by the seasonal runoff resulted in a precautionary state of emergency last June, and a landslide caused a state of emergency in July 2012.

The Fairmont community and Fairmont Hot Springs Resort have both undergone significant restoration by applying many of the recommendations from a report published early in 2013 titled the Fairmont Creek Debris Flow Hazard and Risk Assessment, said Fairmont Hot Springs Resort president Ken Derpak.

The pedestrian bridge taken out by the landslide in 2012 was supported by columns in the creek bed; it has since been replaced by a 190-foot freestanding bridge leading to the resort’s RV park. There are now oversized culverts and reinforced banks along Fairmont Creek while the resort continues to work with the regional district to find new ways to contain sediment flowing down the creek, “if and when it comes,” said Mr. Derpak.

The resort monitors its hot and cold springs on a daily basis to measure the flow and colour, which can indicate future conditions, he added.

Shadybrook Resort in Windermere has also had to adjust its operations because of flooding in recent years, and owner Mike DuBois is expecting more flooding again this year.

Because of a recent shift in the route of Windermere Creek, the creek channel is susceptible to clogging with sediment, and the 11-acre property has become more vulnerable to flooding.

“The flooding problems in Windermere Creek are not caused by too much water,” Mr. DuBois said. “The water overflows the banks because the channel is filled with gravel. This process will happen every summer and winter for the next 20 years unless the government fixes the upstream problem.”

Mr. DuBois said the resort will prepare as best it can with sandbags.

In the regional district press flooding notice, Ms. Duczek reminds anyone affected to stay away from fast-moving water, reinforce properties situated in vulnerable regions, and report sudden changes in turbidity by calling 1-800-663-3456 — a provincial co-ordination centre that will garner the quickest response.

“If people notice creeks or rivers become suddenly chocolatey brown with large chunks of debris or if the flow suddenly decreases or stops, they should report it as soon as possible so the situation can be properly assessed by Provincial Flood Assessors,” warned Ms. Duczek.