Flood situation improving in Merritt, surrounding area

By on May 15, 2017
Sandbags being placed at the Nicola Lake dam last week prior to the weekend, which saw conditions dry out a bit in and around Merritt. (Michelle Siddall/Herald)

High river levels retreated over the weekend in Merritt, and a flood watch for the Nicola River has been downgraded to a high streamflow advisory, but Merritt’s not out of the woods yet.

The BC River Forecast Centre says the Nicola River, including its upstream tributaries, saw peak levels Saturday.

“Flows appear to be receding, and are expected to continue to recede through Sunday and into next week,” stated an advisory from the river forecast centre.

Flooding on Garcia Street had receded by Saturday and the level of the Nicola River at Lions Memorial Park and around town was noticeably lower.

However, the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources still expects to see flooding throughout the Nicola Valley given high river levels and rain in the forecast.

“At this point it might come back and forth,” said Dave Campbell, head of the BC River Forecast Centre, of the high streamflow advisory. “There’s definitely snow up at higher elevations and if we get another round of adverse weather we could see those [river levels] coming back up again.”

Jeptha Ball, a flood safety engineer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, told the Herald the situation for Merritt has improved from last week.

As of Monday morning, water was flowing into Nicola Lake at a rate of 78 cubic metres per second, which was down slightly from Sunday, said Ball.

He said the outflow is at about 46 cubic metres per second, and the water level was about 13 centimetres below the crest of the Nicola Lake dam’s emergency spillway.

“The lake is rising,” said Ball, adding that if the surrounding creeks don’t rise from substantial amounts of rain, it’s expected the water level in the lake will peak by May 20 by just a few millimetres above the spillway.

“I don’t predict inflows will go up that much over the next few days,” said Ball.

He said the dam is designed to handle three to four feet of water flowing over it, so if people see water flowing over the spillway, that doesn’t necessarily mean the dam is failing.

Ball said the ministry will be increasing the outflow through Merritt to reduce the water level in the lake this week, but is trying to balance the water level in Nicola Lake and river as best it can.

Rain in the forecast for Merritt this week is only about 10 millimetres and widespread over the region — not the heavy downpour that can cause river levels to spike as the did last week, said Campbell.

“This rain, hopefully, shouldn’t be too problematic,” Cambell said.

He said residents who’ve placed sandbags should keep them in place for the next few weeks.

Ball said a narrow clearing up Godey Mountain can be used “like a thermometer” to gauge whether or not a significant amount of water still has to come through the Nicola River.

“Once the snow disappears, or substantially disappears — it’s essentially gone to the top of that hill — the Upper Nicola basin is done, now it’s just draining out,” Ball said.

Most evacuation alerts, orders still in place

The flood situation in areas surrounding Merritt is also starting to improve, but many alerts and orders are still in effect.

The Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB) rescinded an evacuation alert for the Rocky Pines subdivision last Friday.

“Rocky Pines residents are safe and there are no dangers to the community,” stated an LNIB press release.

However, a boil water advisory remains in place as a precautionary measure.

Boil water advisories are also still in place for the LNIB’s Zoht reserve, and for about 320 customers who use the Lower Nicola Waterworks Improvement District Water System.

An evacuation order for five residences on Zoht reserve has been rescinded, however, the LNIB still has an evacuation order in place for residents living on Fyall Road.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s (TNRD) evacuation alerts for Mill Creek and Upper Nicola, and Lower Nicola south of the Mamit Lake dam are also still in place.

“Guichon Creek is still quite high, so we’re not going to lift [the Lower Nicola] alert until that creek subsides a bit,” said TNRD information officer Debbie Sell.

Residents on Mill Creek Road — who were trapped in their homes when the creek breached its banks and washed away the road in multiple spots earlier this month — now have temporary access to town, Sell told the Herald.

Flooding blocked access on Mill Creek Road after thunderstorms earlier this month. (Michael Potestio/Herald)

“There’s been a temporary bridge put in at one spot where [the road] was washed out to give some of the residents the ability to get down Mill Creek Road,” Sell said. “There’s [also] been a temporary access for them [to get] on to the Coquihalla.”

The Upper Nicola Band (UNB) still has an evacuation order in place for 12 homes on its Quilchena reserve, and an alert in place for another 46 residences and four RV sites on the reserve until further notice.

Sandbagging is ongoing with volunteers set up at the Quilchena Church, but water levels have dropped slightly in the area since last week, stated a press release from the UNB.

“We’ve done just about everything that we can to protect the community and homes, and now it’s just wait and see,” UNB Chief Harvey McLeod told the Herald.

Water levels in the surrounding creeks and rivers have gone down, but now Nicola Lake is a major concern, said McLeod.

“Now the lake is high and the water doesn’t have anywhere to go, so now it’s starting to back up,” said McLeod.

He said the band is working with the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources, which manages the Nicola Lake dam, to mitigate concerns.

“We’re working with them — measuring the inflow coming into the lake and the outflow that they’re releasing and balancing the whole thing — making sure that everything downstream is going to be OK and trying to take into account our concerns at Upper Nicola and Douglas Lake,” said McLeod.

He said flooding on Saddleman and Hyde roads receded, but has started to perk up from the ground overnight.

“We’ll have some pumps going today [May 15] to pump it back into the lake. We’re now blocking the culverts, so it doesn’t coming back through there,” McLeod said.

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