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Saddle Lake Dam freshet-ready as RDKB tracks 2020 snowpack

The new Saddle Lake Dam Spillway allows reliably management of water levels year-round at Saddle Lake and lower reservoir levels as snow melts from mid-elevation slopes in the Boundary. — RDKB photo

In a media release Friday, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary said the new Saddle Lake Dam Spillway in Area D / Rural Grand Forks is ready for the 2020 freshet.

The RDKB said the project allows reliably management of water levels year-round at Saddle Lake and lower reservoir levels as snow melts from mid-elevation slopes in the Boundary.

The RDKB received a $190,000 grant from the Federal Gas Tax Fund to pay for the infrastructure project in full.

 “Until this year, our field staff have had to manually pump the lake in late spring to meet any provincial orders to keep water levels at least one metre below the top of the reservoir during snowmelt,” said Goran Denkovski, Manager of Infrastructure and Sustainability for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.

“Now we can spill water safely to ensure the water level in the reservoir is maintained at a safe freeboard to minimize the risk to people, property and the environment during freshet.”

 The RDKB said water flows will continue to fluctuate in the creek bed below Saddle Lake Dam and elsewhere, and creek beds that are dry during low flow periods may quickly fill up and come to life again.

This is why under provincial legislation it is illegal to alter a watercourse — even a dry one. In higher freshet years, dry watercourses will suddenly fill and any alterations to the natural flow can cause serious damage to property and people if water follows unpredictable routes.

 The RDKB works closely with provincial staff and local municipalities to monitor water flows and river levels not only at the RDKB-owned Saddle Lake Dam, but at locations across the region where flooding can affect residents and local government infrastructure.

 “Completion of this project primarily addresses local infrastructure needs, but it also helps us address flood risks in the Grand Forks area,” said Roly Russell, Director for Electoral Area D/Rural Grand Forks.

“Our residents have a lot on their minds right now so it’s one piece of good news that our local dam is safer than it was, and thanks to the Federal Gas Tax Fund and the work of our staff, we completed this with essentially no impact on local taxes.”

 The RDKB said the snow basin index, or the amount of snow on the ground within a drainage area, is currently at 122 per cent of normal for the Boundary region, and 119 per cent of normal at the Grano Creek Snow Weather Station as of March 26.

 April is usually a month where more snow accumulates up high, whereas low and mid-level elevations melt. The snow basin index is only one indication of flood risk. Temperature variations and precipitation events are also significant contributors to runoff potential each spring.

The cool nights and warmer days of the past month have helped to reduce the snowpack and melt lower elevation snow.

 The RDKB has been planning for this season’s freshet through the winter and monitors snow accumulations and weather daily. RDKB Emergency Management staff meet regularly with Emergency Management BC about freshet preparedness and support available for local government and RDKB residents if needed.

The RDKB is also reviewing the regional flood response plan and working with local authorities to plan on-the-ground flood protection assessments and plans to stage exercises to test the flood response plan in April of this year.

 “We now have a full flood response plan completed and have submitted that to the Province of BC, ,” said Diane Langman, Chair of the RDKB Board of Directors.

 “I am working with provincial representatives on behalf of our Board of Directors to stress the importance of implementing our flood response plan in the region. Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic that we’re all living with right now and the challenges that accompany it, I want to reassure Boundary residents that we have never stopped working on flood and freshet issues since the 2018 floods.

“Our directors and staff will continue to do so throughout the 2020 freshet.”

 More information about snow and river levels as well as how to prepare for the 2020 freshet, visit emergency.rdkb.com.