Community Planning

If Floods Are a Constant – Are Temporary Measures Enough?

Tons of public money is spent every year to keep rising water away from mostly private property

Okanagan Lake and all of its creeks and streams have always flooded. Dams have been built but water levels continue to dramatically rise and fall. That fluctuation is natural and is not a problem. The very expensive problem for us all is that, in the recent past, houses and other structures were foolishly built on known flood plains.

We spend huge amounts of public money here in Kelowna every year attempting to keep rising water away from property that is mostly private. Most of our spending is on temporary measures like sand bags and Tiger dams. All these efforts are at best mediocre at keeping the water out. Because they are “temporary” they result in enormous piles of garbage and it takes a lot of time to install then remove them. A lot of that garbage becomes landfill and a substantial amount remains in our waterways and on our beaches, like the hundreds of unrecovered sandbags from last year’s flood.

Dock dismantling during the destruction wrought by the Okanagan flood, 2017.

Dock dismantling during the destruction wrought by the Okanagan flood, 2017.

Is there a better way? Yes. Kelowna is a relatively new city. All around the world, for thousands of years, cities have effectively dealt with these same issues. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

First, we should gradually remove structures that are too close to the edges of our waterways. There are already laws in place that restrict how close new construction can be – that’s what we should be aiming for with the older buildings1. When the land along the shores becomes a strip of beaches and parkland, periodic flooding becomes much less of a problem. Second, where it’s impractical or undesirable to remove buildings, a dike or seawall with a multi-use path on top should be built.

We can continue to waste money and produce unnecessary trash using ineffective, unattractive temporary flood-mitigation measures. PLANKelowna thinks that most Kelowna citizens would rather invest in the two strategies above that would cost less in the long-term, and provide highly desired waterfront parkland for all of us to enjoy. Our mayor and city council can do this, or if not, we can vote on October 20 for a council that will.

Al Janusas

1 Zoning Bylaw No. 871 Schedule A, Regional District of Central Okanagan, Revised March 22, 2018
See 3.28 Floodplain Regulations. Simply put, structures are to be built at least 15 metres from Okanagan Lake and 30 metres from Mission Creek.