Riverside Park looks different these days.
Playground equipment usually bustling with children on a sunny day is taped off with yellow “caution” tape, shuttered to prevent possible spread of the novel coronavirus. Nearby, meanwhile, the city preps for a second emergency — flooding.
On Monday, city staff began installing a one-kilometre long, military-grade barricade behind Rivers Trail in anticipation of a one in 20-year flood, which is expected to cause river levels to rise over the banks and into the green space.
“If we didn’t put any protections in the park this year, our projections show water getting as far as Heritage House,” City of Kamloops utility services manager Greg Wightman told KTW. “The sewer lift station, the pickleball courts, the entire park would be under water.”
The barricade consists of Hesco baskets. Made out of wire mesh and a burlap liner, the baskets are lined up and/or stacked and filled with dirt to create a wall, essentially an artificial riverbank. In the past, they have been used for military purposes and were last seen in Riverside Park in 2012.
This year, the barricade will span 900 metres behind Rivers Trail, from Uji Garden to just past the washrooms at the east end of the park. Wightman explained the barricade will protect critical infrastructure. Though park users may not realize when strolling along Rivers Trail, sewer infrastructure is hidden beneath the green space, with the odd manhole bearing signs of underground pipe. Wightman said gravity-fed sewer mains lead to a pump station behind the tennis and pickleball courts.
“That’s one of our major sewer lift stations in town,” Wightman said. “Everything that runs within this park, to service the concessions, washrooms, Heritage House, all that runs into that pump station. If the manholes that are throughout the park, in the ground, started to get water in them, it would start to overwhelm that pump station. It could certainly back things up for everybody east of the park.”
Wightman said key to flood protection is deploying resources to protect critical infrastructure. In 2012, for example, the parking lot behind Sandman Centre flooded and is likely to happen again this year. It won’t be protected.
“A parking lot is not a critical resource,” Wightman said. “We can’t use the province’s money or resources to protect that, so we allow that parking lot to flood. The pier, we’ll remove the railings here tomorrow. It’ll be under water this year. We are just protecting critical infrastructure.’
The province, through Emergency Management B.C., is funding the initiative, estimated by Wightman to be about a $200,000. Wightman said that the city is provided with information from the province daily, with information as of last week still predicting at least a one-in-20-year flood in Kamloops this spring, with projections as high as historical flooding dating back to 1972.
As for park users, Wightman said: “There will be a major impact, for sure. Even right now, Rivers Trail west of the pier is shut down. It will remain that way. As of tomorrow, the pier is going to be shut down. The beach will be off limits. Certainly, these Hesco barriers we’re putting up, we need people to stay off those. They’ll be lots of signage put up, but it’s not going to be safe to be on these.”
With challenges, due to physical-distancing measures in place to curb spread of COVID-19, the city is prepping early. Wightman said another area where barricading could be set up this year is McArthur Island between Mackenzie Avenue and 12th Avenue, essentially the two entrances.
Mayor Ken Christian addressed the issue of flood preparations during a recent press conference. He told the media areas in town most vulnerable to flooding are around Schubert Drive and Riverside Park, a corridor with significant infrastructure.
Asked about the city’s plans if people need to be evacuated due to flooding, Christian said the municipality has a number of civic facilities that could be utilized and, due to COVID-19, there are many hotels with vacancies, providing another option.
“Hopefully our diking system will be [of a] good enough integrity that we wouldn’t have to utilize that kind of response,” Christian said.