‘How do you walk away from your life savings?’: Flooded Stump Lake residents plead for help
Debbie and Devon Nickle are scrambling to defend their property from the high waters of Stump Lake that surround their home like a rising moat.
Several landowners are dealing with persistent flooding from the lake, which is about 40 minutes northeast of Merritt.
“You go to bed, you hear the wind, or you hear the rain, and you hear a pump going, and you can’t sleep,” Devon said.
“The wind kicks up, and the water’s rising, and you’ve got waves, and you’re running: which fire do I put out first?” Debbie said.
The couple said they’ve constantly been sandbagging and building dikes for the last three months.
“One night I looked out, she’s sitting in a chair all night long, watching the pumps 24 hours a day,” Devon Nickle said.
“Saturday night we got in at quarter to 10, and he says if it wasn’t for me helping him, he would resolve himself of this life. How do you listen to that?” Debbie cried.
Eighteen years ago, when lake levels were much lower, the couple bought the land and built their dream home.
They now believe the lot shouldn’t have been approved in the first place, and they’ve sunk thousands of dollars into trying to save their property.
“We’re nearing $100,000, how much more do I spend?” Devon said.
“How do you walk away from your life savings?” Debbie added.
A few blocks away, Chuck Gandy said his house used to be nearly 300 metres from the lake, but now the waves lap at his front siding on a windy day.
His basement is submerged underwater, and he said that unlike with typical flooding, this water doesn’t go away.
“There’s five feet of water in my basement right now. There’s been water in my basement for two years, but this year, it’s come up about four feet,” Gandy said.
In an email, the transportation ministry said it is spending $3 million this year to raise Highway 5A above the current lake level.
The road is often closed because of flooding from the lake.
However, instead of spending millions of dollars on raising the road, residents want the government to dig and widen an old channel to help high water drain out of the lake.
They believe that it could be controlled by a small dam, so that downstream users wouldn’t be flooded during the spring runoff.
“This is not a typical flooding event. It’s going to take years to recede,” engineer and local resident Randy Bourne said.
Bourne believes that a dam was built on an old creek decades ago, which blocked the outflow of Stump Lake.
“If that dam wasn’t there, the lake would probably be down four or five feet lower than it currently is,” he said.
He said over the last four years, rain and snowfall have been significantly more than average.
“That, coupled with logging in the backwoods, has caused the soil not to retain as much water as it normally would, and that all runs off as well,” Bourne said.
“It’s important that we remove that dam, that structure there, and restore the creek back to what it should be.”
Bourne said that the water should be released during the dry season, so that it didn’t flood downstream residents.
In an email, the province said it doesn’t actively manage the level of Stump Lake, and that draining the water would have serious consequences downstream.
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District said another study is needed consulting upstream and downstream users.
“The excavation of a channel that would lead to a dam or weir structure would be what we’re looking at,” said Ron Storie, Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s community services director.
“I think what’s happening to residents is very tragic, and I understand that it can just create anxiety, and I definitely feel for them,” he added.
However, the province ultimately makes the decision, he added.
One sign in front of a property on the south end of the lake reads: “Help! We are drowned. MLA/TNRD/FLNRO want ‘another’ study.”
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