We read in the newspaper that the current flood conditions are a “once in two hundred year” event. How would we know that? We have no written records for Lake Country before settlement, which began with Tom Wood’s pre-emption of 160 acres at the south end of Pelmewash (later Wood) Lake in 1871.
It is quite likely that serious flooding occurred annually in the bottomland between Wood and Duck Lake prior to 1908, when the level of Wood Lake was dropped by four feet due to construction of the navigation canal between Wood and Kalamalka lakes. The most likely meaning in the Okanagan (Syilx) language of “Pelmewash” is “lake that floods” or “lake that covers the earth.” Think of Wood Lake being four feet higher than it is now and then add two or three feet of water during the spring freshet. That could take the level of Wood Lake to at least Lodge Road.
After the level of Wood Lake was lowered, the valley bottom was still subject to flooding. Severe flooding occurred along Bottom Wood Lake Road in 1929 or 1930. Arnold Trewhitt remembers as a six year old attempting to take a trip from Oyama to Kelowna with his parents, John and Edith, in the family’s 1928 Chrysler. Bottom Wood Lake Road was flooded as they approached Lodge Road, covered with perhaps a foot of water. The road was deemed impassable and the Trewhitts turned back, abandoning their travel plans.
The 1930 flooding described by Arnold was more severe than what we are currently experiencing. What is different today is that considerable building has occurred on this Lake Country bottomland where structures are vulnerable to these occasional events.
There is a public policy implication arising from this issue. If a flooding event occurs perhaps once every eight generations, precautions such as appropriate zoning or protection of our infrastructure may seem unnecessary. However, these events have occurred more frequently in the past than has been assumed and flooding may well occur more frequently in the future as a result of the early melt of the high elevation snow pack. Municipal officials will likely consider how to plan for the possibility of more frequent flooding events.