Things will likely get worse before they get better in the Town Creek flooding situation.
District of Lillooet Director of Public Works Steve Hohner told the News May 18 the flood is expected to peak at the end of this month. The volume should then begin to diminish, but it could be the end of June before levels return to normal.
“We hope it's earlier and it happens quicker and the peak isn't too high,” said Hohner, who said the District is stockpiling sandbags, pumps to push the water past low spots and extra hoses in anticipation of the peak flood period. “We're constantly watching it, but it's going to be a trial and error situation, because most of us haven't run into this much flooding on the street. We're doing the best we can.”
The District has been channeling most of the flow down Main Street, with the remaining water still going under Main Street, onto Russell Norton's property and then onto the REC Centre parking lot and through pipes to the VLA and Fraser River.
Although the volume of water from Town Creek exceeds the capacity of the District's storm drain system, Hohner said no homes or businesses have been flooded to date. “The water has gotten close to a few properties where there are houses, but I haven't heard of any basements flooded.” He said a sinkhole opened up last week near the Catholic Church on private property where an old well is located.
Municipal crews have sandbagged around Hydro poles on Main Street to prevent water from hitting the power poles. He said residents raised concerns about the flood water lapping against the base of the poles and undermining them, so the District contacted Hydro which is “keeping an eye” on the situation.
Hohner said there are no concerns at this time about the stability of the CN Rail tracks below the REC Centre. He said the District has been in contact with the CN trackmaster and the railway is also monitoring the situation.
“We don't want to allow it all to run through that pipe that goes through down to the VLA,” explained Hohner. “We want to continue to channel water down Main Street, where we have catch basins and a curb and gutter system, as long as we can contain it on Main Street.”
One cause of the flooding is a high snowpack, which is at 129 per cent of last year's snowpack. Hohner said flows in Town Creek have also increased because of the 2009 forest fire, which “wiped out” trees in the watershed.
“When you go up in a helicopter and fly over that watershed, you see a very different perspective than what you see on the ground,” explained Hohner. “It looks pretty barren up there. We need a lot more trees up there and it's going to take 30 years before you get a mature growth of conifers in the watershed.” He added that the lack of forest canopy resulting from recent forest fires means more snow hits the ground, intensifying flooding pressures in the spring.
The District also did not do any diversions on Town Creek this spring.
Because of “sky-high” turbidity levels, he says the District is not currently using Town Creek water. The main core of the community (the old Village of Lillooet) is relying on water from REC Centre well #2. The water connection between the main core and North Lillooet has been sealed off and North Lillooet is using Dickey Creek water. A boil water notice has been issued for Dickey Creek because of its turbidity levels.
“We've examined all the scenarios, we've talked to IHA (Interior Health Authority) and looked at the water systems and flood scenarios,” Hohner told the News.
He is aware of talk around town suggesting the flood water should be used for irrigation and other purposes, rather than letting it flow down the street and ultimately into the Fraser River.
He said a boil water notice is issued when turbidity levels reach five NTUs on the turbidity scale. “Way less than one is where you want it. Above one is where you're on a boil water advisory,” said Hohner. He said the turbidity in Town Creek is currently at 140 NTUs.
“The silt that is currently flowing through the system would clog up everyone in town's PRV (pressure reducing valve),” he explained. “With all the particles in that water – if you look at it on a microscopic level, there are so many places for bacteria to hide, the health risks would be extremely high. If you want to go down to the road and take a bucket and put it on your lawn, that's fine, but we can't run that water through the drinking water system. It would clog up equipment, it would fill the bottom of the reservoir with silt and that's expensive to clean up, as well as plug the PRV screens in most houses.”