A dozen people from six homes in the Johnson Flats neighbourhood of Grand Forks were ordered to evacuate at 1:30 a.m. on May 19, after water from the Kettle River breached a damaged dike in the southwest corner of the neighbourhood and allowed the current to flood northeast over several properties and across Beatrice Road.
Of the six properties on Beatrice Road, two were put on evacuation alert late on May 18. The other four did not receive such a warning, said Mark Stephens, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s emergency operations manager.
Some groundwater is to be expected in Johnson Flats, when there’s a higher-than-average spring melt. A river current breaking over the low-lying ground when the Kettle River is flowing at that level (approximately two feet lower than in 2017) though, is not – unless protective measures are damaged.
The suspect dike at the southwest end of Johnson Flats, residents say, has existed for well over a decade and was damaged in the 2018 flood. According to a provincial spokesperson, the structure in question “is most likely an orphan dike,” meaning that it was likely constructed under emergency circumstances before and is not monitored by a diking authority. While the province said that the adjacent property owner is not responsible for maintaining the structure, it asks that “local emergency plans should address any specific risks that may be associated with these works.”
The owner of the property directly behind the dike told The Gazette that local officials had visited the site in 2019, but no on-the-ground work has happened since.
Frances Maika, a spokesperson for the RDKB, said that replacing the damaged structure to protect Johnson Flats is more complex than just filling in the gap.
“It’s not as simple as that,” Maika said. “Anything you do on the river impacts another area, so this is a dynamic, complex, hydrologically sophisticated problem, and it’s not one that’s going to be easily solved.”
The province also said that any new flood protection works to repair the damaged area will take some time.
“Any dike constructed in this location would need to be undertaken by an approved diking authority,” a spokesperson said, “because it would provide flood protection to more than one property.”
Clayton Kube, who moved into his Johnson Flats house just a week before it sustained thousands of dollars of damage in the 2018 flood, owns one of the structures in the neighbourhood that were impacted by the water last week. No matter whose responsibility it is to protect his and his neighbours’ properties, he said, one thing’s clear: “Something should be done with that [dike].”
The latest publicly available plans for Grand Forks’ flood mitigation works do not indicate that the damaged dike will be dealt with through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) money that the city received last June.
Water levels falling slowly
In a May 22 statement, the RDKB said that current river forecasts show the Kettle River staying around a one- to two-year return level, but low-lying areas may still be vulnerable as rain and warmer weather is projected to drive high-elevation snowmelt throughout the watershed this week.
All 14 properties put on evacuation alert in the Manly Meadows and Johnson Flats areas last week will stay under alert until the threat of flooding has passed, the RDKB said.