After four weeks of rising flood waters, June 8th was a day of teamwork and optimism for Peachland. For several weeks we had been monitoring our 11km of waterfront – all of which is considered parkland. Docks were weighted down but in many cases were fully submerged; provincial and local fire crews were frantically placing sandbags to protect against shoreline erosion as well as protect critical infrastructure; rip rap had been placed in high risk areas; and crews were deploying tiger dams (large water filled bladders) to protect our roadways from the water. We believed that we were doing the best we could to hold back the water.
Our small community was looking very different. Most lakefront properties were experiencing rising waters, and home owners and businesses were setting up pumps to remove the water. Hoses were running across the main road in town with makeshift hose bibs established to enable vehicle traffic to flow. Our beaches were all under water, and sandbag walls were a common occurrence both on public and private property. Our businesses were open…but many were struggling as folks were avoiding coming to the flood impacted areas. Unlike a fire where the emergency progresses fast, the flood for Peachland was like slowly ripping off a band aid.
Despite all of this, Peachlanders were banding together to help neighbours armour against the rising waters and gratitude and well wishes were common from those who encountered crews along the way.On June 8th, we were informed that a storm from the South was brewing, and all forces were working together to protect the town. We discovered what our neighbours had weeks before…you can’t hold back the power of nature. The storm turned docks on their side, eroded significant sections of our waterfront parkland and left segments of our Centennial Walkway damaged. Waterfront trees were undermined and were dangling precariously over the lake; and vehicles near downed trees were at risk as segments of a waterfront parking lot was also washed away. The tiger dam was dragged into the water and crews stood in shock and awe helpless to the damage that was being done.
So where do we (recreation leaders) fit in? In Peachland the beach is primarily parkland; therefore, Parks staff were working tirelessly to protect that beachfront and beachfront amenities. In other communities, Parks and Recreation staff showed their versatility in filling a variety of emergency service roles both at the Emergency Operation Centre as well as local incident command. With expertise in communications, customer service and operation, our Parks and Recreation teams are relied on to fill gaps in the emergency program.
In the end, our community, like many in the Okanagan, experienced significant damage. However, infrastructure can be replaced and lessons learned will last a lifetime. Some lessons I learned:
- Having your regional counterparts on speed dial is invaluable (having a Shoreline Engineer on speed dial was helpful too)
- Never be afraid to ask for help or advice
- If you live in a waterfront area that may flood, survey the area early – a visual inspection is not always enough to gauge where the water is going to go
- When applying for funding through the Emergency Management program, use someone who knows the trigger words that might help you get the funding faster (or avoid a decline)
- Team, coordination, cooperation and communication are essential in an emergency
In the Central Okanagan, municipalities work together under the Regional Emergency Operation Centre. This model was tested to extremes in 2017 when the centre was fully active for 120 consecutive days. Municipal staff from all jurisdictions band together to operate the centre while also trying to manage their day to day work at the office. For a small town like Peachland, the resource and support of the operations centre is truly invaluable. From tracking weather and rising waters, planning, resourcing equipment and resources, communicating with the media/public, tracking expenses and inter-jurisdictional communication, the Regional Emergency Operations Centre was able to assist and fill in gaps and challenges that were happening on the ground. They were also able to provide some on the ground expertise to help us navigate this unprecedented event. Many of my colleagues in the Okanagan became flood experts – how to weigh down a dock, install a Tiger Dam, what type of flood mitigation effort would actually work (or more likely not work) in a particular situation.
For many in our region, the highlight is shared – communities and community members coming together to help each other and work on a joint cause. The challenge post emergency is the clean up; backlog of regular work; and impacts that both fires and floods had on summer programming and events such as lake swim lessons/water activities and outdoor camps. There were also both large and small impacts to various Canada Day events with some activities being cancelled and others being delayed or reworked to accommodate the flood damaged areas. However, we did survive, and as it often is at the end of it all, our communities are bonded and are stronger together.
Cheryl Weibe is the Director of Community Services with the District of Peachland with a focus on Recreation, Parks and Community Services. Side of her desk activities include being the BCRPA Regional Liaison for the Thompson-Okanagan and she also is a volunteer facilitator for the Volunteer Management program with the Kelowna Community Resource Society. Her work priority for the next several years will be helping Peachland recover from the 2017 flood.