Since mid-May, the Okanagan’s most popular news site has been running non-stop with one flood myth after another. I say “myth” because most stories are using mythical numbers.
The number fudging started on May 16th when the mayor of Kelowna went nuclear by warning the public that the lake cannot hold any more water because it’s at “full pool.” This is complete hogwash since the lake has a dam at the south end that regulates the flow of water to ensure “full pool” is exceeded every year.
The major drought of the 1930s forced the provincial government into regulating the flow out of the 100km long Okanagan Lake so that sufficient water would be available throughout the summer for users downstream. The minimum lake level regulators are tasked with achieving at high water is called “full pool.” Since forecasting the amount of freshet (misspelled as frechette by the grammatically challenged media) is difficult, assumptions are made in early spring based upon existing snowpack levels and a worst case scenario for precipitation.
Snowpacks were low over the winter, so the lake was allowed to rise more than would naturally be the case. Then the valley experienced the wettest Spring on record, so full pool was reached early.
And the water has kept on rising.
The projected height was 343m above sea level, and interestingly enough, the Castanet news source claimed that this point would match the all-time record from 1948. Several times between May 20th and May 24th, Castanet continued to claim that the old record was 343 m above sea level.
Then suddenly — just as it became apparent that the lake would shatter the 343m mark — Castanet changed its story by moving the goal posts up to 343.28m, which is just above the new forecast high. The cynic inside of me says that they needed to increase the record so they could milk this story for another week, but maybe there’s a less conspiratory explanation out there. Maybe, but I have my doubts because both numbers are actually wrong.
The official data is posted online for anyone with an internet connection to view. That government data shows the 1948 level peaked at 2.838m. This is relative to the low water line, so you have to add 340.236m (as the real-time data explains). This brings the 1948 level to 343.074m. Therefore, the new record was set already, although we can’t be too confident with that figure either since this government document from 1993 lists the record as 343.13m (see page 16 of report) while this government document from 2000 states the record as 343.25m as per the following screen shot of page 36.
So the government isn’t sure if the actual figure is 343.074m, 343.13m, or 343.25m while the media originally went with 343m only to change it to 343.28m once the first record was met.
Does anyone want to guess what the “real” record will be if the lake ever exceeds 343.28?
NB: You might be thinking that this is just a small town news outlet playing loose with the numbers, but national newspapers like the Globe and Mail are even worse!
UPDATE: The 2017 lake level peaked on June 11th at 343.27m above sea level.