Water Levels Rising in Vanderhoof
Vanderhoof, B.C.- The Regional District of Bulkley -Nechako and the community of Vanderhoof are bracing for the worst.
The BC River Forecast Centre is maintaining a Flood Watch for the Nautley River near Fort Fraser and for the Nechako River at Vanderhoof but the folks in Vanderhoof are already filling sandbags.
The last major flood in Vanderhoof was in 2007, when a combination of factors including a large release of water by Rio Tinto, flooded dozens of properties in the community. The problem this year says Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen, isn’t just all about the usual spring freshet, Rio Tinto has increased flows from the Skins Lake spillway, and has indicated it will need to release even more water to keep the reservoir below the 2800 foot capacity limit.
Facing a flood situation is difficult for residents to accept says Mayor Thiessen “We’ve had the lowest water flows all winter long. We were at about 32 to 33 cubic metres per second going through the course of the winter and we had very average snowfall through the year, and so we have asked, through a resolution to the North Central Government Association , that there be a water use plan for the river, which would give the community of Vanderhoof some input into the water flows and discharges at the spillway.” But Thiessen is aware that Rio Tinto has a solid agreement with the Province which gives the company 100% control of the river, “But if there are going to be any changes in the futures, certainly it would be something we ask for.”
Rio Tinto has a permit to keep water levels in the reservoir no higher than 2800 feet above sea level , but the latest information given to communities downstream is that the reservoir was sitting at 2799. Thiessen says the community has asked the province to permit the reservoir to hold one extra foot of water “Our hope is that that will give stability as soon as possible and allow for the flows to be mitigated with that kind of activity.”
Mayor Thiessen says the community is better prepared this time than it was in 2007 “We already have 2,000 metres of gabion baskets in place and tonight we are calling on volunteers to meet at the Vanderhoof arena at 6 p.m. to help fill sandbags for seniors or others who need help along the Nechako.”
Mayor Thiessen says Vanderhoof Council has been advised the flow rate could be as high as 700 cubic metres per second through their community, about a 100 cubic metres per second higher than the flows during the 2007 flood. “There are a number of properties along the river that were built to a 200 year flood plain, many of those people that are living along the river are starting to move things out of their basements.”
“We are told this could be a long event” says Mayor Thiessen “that it could be well into July before we see it (the river) go back down.”
The folks in Fort Fraser are also preparing for flooding as the Nautley River is backing up because of the high flows in the Nechako. Bulkley -Nechako Regional District Board Chair Bill Miller says public advisories will be issued . “The last I heard there will be about 20 residences in Fort Fraser affected, plus farmland.” He says the farmland is either being eroded or flooded.
Miller echoes the frustration expressed by Vanderhoof’s Mayor Gerry Thiessen over the low flows recorded over the winter “We’ve seen some of the lowest flows we’ve seen in years from last fall, right through to April of this year and now we’re getting dumped on.”
Miller says the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako plans to go door to door to advise those who will be hit the hardest, but adds everyone needs to be extremely careful “If you are on the water, or close to the water, pay attention to the alerts and warnings.”
He says most people are fairly aware of the potential flood situation because the water levels have been slowly rising but the Nautley is backing up into Fraser Lake “We’re alerting people along that shore, on lake lots.”
Vanderhoof’s Mayor, Gerry Thiessen says his community is better prepared this time than it was in 2007 when it experienced a major flood, “But it is still a difficult time that we’re going through and we understand it will be a significant period of time.”
Regional District Board Char Bill Miller says the only saving grace to this situation is that the flow levels on the Upper Fraser are not expected to rise significantly, so the problems should not be exacerbated by water backing up on the Nechako River where it meets the Fraser River in Prince George. He says now is the time to press the province and Rio Tinto “This isn’t a natural river event, this is an event subsequent to industry manipulating the water.”
Rio Tinto will host a public meeting on Thursday evening at the Friendship Centre in Vanderhoof at 7 p.m.