The City of Kamloops is preparing for a situation in which it may need two emergency operations centres — one to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and another to respond to flooding.
The River Forecast Centre will release its latest projections on Wednesday and the data is expected to show snowpack levels in the region still well above normal depths.
As such, the city is prepping for potentially historic level flooding, with an eye to 1972 levels, when the North Thompson River flooded parts of Westsyde and city parks became swamps.
Anyone who has walked along the South Thompson River in Riverside Park and looked at the high water marker will have seen just how high the water rose that year, the second-highest notch on the rock statue.
“It’s going to be potentially a very challenging year,” the city’s utility services manager, Greg Wightman, told KTW.
City CAO David Trawin said a report on freshet will go to council next week. In all likelihood, he said, the city will experience some flooding this spring. The extent, however, remains the bigger question.
Wightman said there is “high risk of some very high waters this year,” estimated to be a one-in-20-year flood, potentially approaching 1972 levels, he said.
Wightman stressed flood protection has improved since the devastating flood in 1972, including dykes built to higher standards. In anticipation of the flood forecasting, he said he expected snow pack numbers to be potentially greater than previous months, due to snow seen at elevations as low as Valleyview last week.
“I think what we’re likely to see is really no improvement, if not a worsening of the numbers,” Wightman said. “In the past month, we’ve had very cold, unseasonably cold weather and snowfall even in town, let alone what’s been falling up in the hills. I don’t expect any positive news out of that release this week.”
Some factors that could impact flooding include timing of when the two rivers peak and weather.
Substantial rain leads to faster melting. Ideally, rain holds off until June, at which time the city will need a soak before wildfire season.
Trawin said the past five out of seven springs, however, have been wet. As a result, the city is preparing.
“We are already working with the province in terms of making sure sandbags are around and that type of thing,” Trawin said.
Wightman said the city has a well-developed flood-response plan and data, which helps determine what areas need to be protected and how. He said the city has been preparing for months, as far back as the fall.
“People will be familiar in recent years with the closure of the pier in Riverside Park. That’s one of the things we’ll do,” Wightman said. “We know what elevations and we start looking and making those decisions. Really, it’s just planning that.”
This year, additional challenges arise in preparing for freshet amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical-distancing requirements overlap with simple tasks like sandbagging.
Wightman said one person typically holds the bag and another fills it with sand, something not doable this year. Staff can’t even share a vehicle, due to the six-foot-distancing rules in place by the B.C.’s provincial health officer.
In the past, the city has also leaned on contractors during flooding, though capacity of contractors at this time may also be impacted by the pandemic.
However, Trawin said the city took resourcing challenges into account as it worked through layoffs in response to decreased revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the city has been in a “holding pattern” awaiting flood forecasting.
As a result of the pandemic and anticipated flooding, the city is also advising anyone who lives along waterways to start preparing now, due to physical distancing in place that will limit the ability to lean on neighbours.
“Anybody out there who lives along a water course, this is definitely a year where you want to start preparing to protect your property and doing that as early as you can because it’s going to be more challenging this year,” Wightman said.
“You’re not going to be able to call upon your friends and your neighbours to come help you because of the physical distancing. Start preparing early — as early as you can.”