The water levels of the Nechako River near Riverside Park on May 14 have some residents concerned about potential flooding. (Photo / Colin Macgillivray)

High water levels continue to be monitored by community

Potential flooding still cause for concern

Warm weather has arrived and even warmer days are on the horizon.

Per and, in the coming weeks, Vanderhoof will be graced with temperatures that will be consistently in the high-teens, with days where temperatures will flirt with the mid-twenties.

This would normally be fantastic news for those eagerly anticipating the summer heat, but with sunny skies comes a potential problem that has been rearing its ugly head in the community in recent weeks.

A potential flood.

“When I look out my window into Riverside Park, I can see how high the water is getting,” says Councillor John Murphy, who recalls the significant flood that occurred in 2015 when analyzing the current water levels in the Nechako River.

“The water levels are definitely getting close to where they were in 2015, but not quite as high yet,” says Murphy. “Back then, the water was completely in Riverside Park. The park was essentially underwater. Where I live, there is a riding stable very close to my house and that was underwater by about two or three feet, too.”

According to Murphy, there are numerous elements at play when predicting whether the community will face another consequential flood in the near future.

“We’re always at what we call a ‘high water event’ when the water is up this high, higher than normal,” says Murphy. “Obviously, it’s also going to depend on weather related issues, like the snow melt, precipitation. Those factors all come into play, of course.”

Although definitely wary of a sudden increase of water flowing into the bodies of water surrounding Vanderhoof, Murphy is relatively optimistic that the town will avoid another major flood related incident.

“The chances are that we are going to flood? I’m still not 100% what is really going to happen there,” says Murphy. “We’re going to have high water concerns, for sure, but I don’t think it will be what it was like in 2015. Let’s hope not.”

Wayne Salewski, who has lived on the Nechako River for over 40 years in three different homes, has observed relative stability in the river of late, but still notes some risks.

“There are several things happening right now that we should look at,” says Salewski. “There are above average temperatures for this time of the year, so that is definitely a bit of a concern … We are aware of what’s going on, but the river seems stable right now.”

Nevertheless, Salewski attributes the flood concerns to the unpredictability of mother nature.

“The winter that we had, these kinds of winters, they are what they are. I think that everyone has really worked hard to adapt to the whole situation that we’re in,” says Salewski.

Salewski also believes that Rio Tinto has bought into the need to make the community apart of their operating plan.

“I know the Mayor has been quite forceful and worked hard to ensure that a relationship (with Rio Tinto) is there,” says Salewski. “

The Omineca Express previously reported on an evaluation made by Rio Tinto concerning flood risks. The company remained firm when stating that the town of Vanderhoof has only a two per cent chance of flooding in 2018.

In a May 11 reservoir observation update made by Rio Tinto, they predicted that, although the river flow at Vanderhoof will decrease from 537 cubic meters per second (m3/s) from May 14 to 515 m3/s on May 21, the flow of the Nautley River is expected to increase, going from a predicted 270 m3/s on May 14 to 318 m3/s on May 21. Rio Tinto also reported that the Nautley Watershed is at 143 per cent of the long-term average snowpack.

To understand the data used by Rio Tinto in their observation update, information from Professor Stephen A. Nelson of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, states that discharge, or the volume of water passing at any point of a river, is measured in cubic meters per second.

“As discharge increases, generally width, depth, and velocity of the stream also increase,” writes Nelson in a lesson concerning river systems and the causation of flooding. “Increasing the depth and width of the stream may cause the stream to overflow.”

Rio Tinto’s update continues to state that the Skins Lake Spillway’s discharge will remain at the licensed minimum, approximately 49 m3/s, until at least May 21, while the peak elevation of the Nechako Reservoir is projected to reach anywhere in between 2798.5 feet and the full level of 2800 feet.

Furthermore, the River Forecast Centre issued an official post on May 10, in which the High Streamflow Advisory for both the Nautley River and the Nechako River was upgraded to a Flood Watch.

Despite that information, history suggests that the two most important factors when determining whether flooding will occur is precipitation and the speed at which the snow pack will melt.

Ultimately, for Councillor Murphy, whether flooding occurs or not, community safety is the number one priority.

“The most important thing is to just be aware of what is going on with the river,” says Murphy. “Stay away from the high waters, don’t go down to the river, all those kinds of things. Just be cautious and use common sense.”

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