Rising water: 'We've got potential to reach record flood levels'

A short spike of forecasted hot weather, followed by hard rains and then unpredictable brief storms from the south threaten to push the South Thompson River to flows seen during the floods of 1948.

But an expert with the B.C. River Forecast Centre said Thursday it is too early to predict how high that will push rivers in the city and whether it will threaten hundreds of homes.

The river forecast centre's Dave Campbell said the river will rise for at least five more days.

"With the weather it could easily be 10 days (of rise)."

The combination of weather and snowpack remaining in the mountains - left there due to a cold spring - has City officials pondering whether, and when, to deploy earthen berms along key areas.

That was last done in 1999, most notably along Schubert Drive in North Kamloops.

It takes about 10 to 12 days to put the berms in place, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

The South Thompson River continued to flow quietly past the home of Alana Westerman, who has lived in the cottage-style house at the end of 14 thAvenue for most of her life. Her father started to build the house in 1947, the year before the historic 1948 flood.

If the river rises more than another half a metre or so, it will start flowing into her basement, but so far, her floor remains bare concrete. Her grandson and friends moved out old furniture in the past few days and started laying sandbags, placed by the City, directly beside her home.

"Everyone is anxious to get going," said Westerman, who expressed little concern about the rising river.

"I say 'wait.' It's here (sand and bags) and ready."

Both the City of Kamloops and Columbia-Shuswap Regional District have set up level one - the lowest level - emergency operation centres. The province has also placed its local emergency services office at the ready, staffed by experts from various ministries.

Campbell said there are too many variables to predict rise of the South Thompson River and Shuswap Lake. They include heat, precipitation and precisely where it falls.

Another key factor is the North Thompson River, which is currently dropping. If the North Thompson is high, it tends to back up the South Thompson and prevents it from swiftly draining.

Chris Johnson, utilities operations supervisor for the City of Kamloops, said yet another factor is the level of Kamloops Lake - which can also cause the system to back up.

Forecasted weather could push the North Thompson River back up, however, despite its current decline.

The South Thompson is currently running at about 1,500 cubic metres per second of volume. That compares to flood waters in 1948 of 1,620 cubic metres per second.

But other factors dictate how that flow translates into rise.

"We've got potential to reach record flood levels," Campbell warned, adding "it's early to say if or when we'd be reaching those."

At Shuswap Lake, the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District has dropped sand, along with 40,000 bags, at 10 locations.

"With restricted flow (from a high North Thompson) we could get to 1972 levels," said information officer Cathy Semchuk.

Semchuk said many residents with low-lying properties are preparing for possible flooding.

The regional district is also telling boaters to stay off the lake because marine craft wakes are breaching or knocking down sandbagged areas at some points.

Unlike the City of Kamloops, it has not shut boat launches, however.

Meanwhile, the ALS Society sent out notice Wednesday that its walk scheduled for Riverside Park on Saturday has been moved instead to McArthur Island's xeriscape garden.


Thrill-seekers who attempt to boat or swim in floodwaters put their lives and the lives of others at risk, police warned Wednesday.

While there have been no incidents reported so far, the City and police are concerned about public safety.

Fencing erected along the shore of Riverside Park and other areas is intended to keep the public out of harm's way, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Grant Learned.

"Going on the water? It would defy logic," Learned said. "Stay away from the banks and the river itself."

Some of the flood debris that poses a danger is visible while some of it's submerged, adding to the risk to boaters and swimmers.

Anyone who ignores the fencing and enters the water could be fined $100 on a first violation and $500 for subsequent violations of the parks bylaw.

The purpose of the barrier is not to apply the bylaw but to ensure safety, Learned stressed. Police and other first responders are put at risk if they have to enter the river to rescue someone.

"Thrill-seekers put others at risk."

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