Town cleans up debris as lake levels slowly return to normal; residents reminded to leave sandbags in place

By on June 20, 2017

Sandbags were used to protect buildings close to the lake. (Richard McGuire file photo)

As lake levels slowly return to normal, the town’s cleanup operation is underway.

Jim Dinwoodie, director of operational services with the Town of Osoyoos, said crews have been picking up the larger pieces of debris that have washed ashore and beach cleaning has been underway.

As of Tuesday morning, the level of Osoyoos Lake was down to 912.66 feet above sea level – more than two feet lower than the 914.89 feet the lake reached at its peak on June 2.

The Washington State Department of Ecology aims to manage the level of Osoyoos Lake to between 911.5 and 912 feet during the summer months. During spring runoff, however, the gates of the Zosel Dam in Oroville, WA are wide open and the lake reaches a higher level.

Nonetheless, the lake level has been falling steadily and the flow of the Similkameen River as measured at Nighthawk, WA, as of Tuesday morning, was at 4,950 cubic feet per second – roughly a quarter of its peak flow at the beginning of the month.

When the Similkameen River is high, it impedes water from flowing out of Osoyoos Lake.

Up river, Okanagan Lake at Penticton remains 71 centimetres above its normal level for this time of year, but it has been dropping from historically high water levels reached earlier this month.

Flows on the Okanagan River are expected to remain high well into the summer.

Dinwoodie said the town has been able to get its beach-cleaning machine onto Legion and Gyro beaches to pick up debris and to fluff the sand “and make it look nice and pretty.”

High water levels, however, delayed the cleanup of Cottonwood Beach and the beach along Hotel Row.

“What we’re hoping is the hotels along Hotel Row will start cleaning up their own beaches from the bigger chunks and as soon as the lake recedes enough for us to get our machinery onto it, we will run the beach cleaner up and down to try to tidy that up,” said Dinwoodie.

The town will need to do some work at Cottonwood Beach including adding sand to replace the sand that washed away, he said.

There are also retaining walls next to the Watermark Beach Resort that were damaged and will need to be fixed, he said.

Most of the debris that has washed ashore has been branches, tree limbs and leaves, as well as general garbage, Dinwoodie said.

“Nothing too interesting,” he said. “We haven’t seen any dead fish, so I guess that’s good.”

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) has asked people to leave sandbags in place both in case water levels rise again and because a plan to dispose of the bags is still being worked out with the provincial government.

“All sandbags and installed armouring must remain in place until otherwise directed by your local authority,” the RDOS said in a recent news release, which cited environmental concerns about dumping sand in the foreshores of the lakes.

Dumping sand into creeks, wetlands, beaches or watercourses can impact fish habitat, water supplies, infrastructure, flood control, navigation and recreational activities and is illegal under the Water Sustainability Act.

Residents may use clean sand on their properties as fill, in sandboxes or other uses well away from lakes and creeks, the RDOS said.

More than 500,000 sandbags have been distributed throughout the RDOS.

The province will pay local governments to remove them at no cost to residents, the RDOS said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

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