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High Water Levels: Can you boat on Okanagan Lake right now?

The glistening water. The warm early season sun. The peaceful lull of the waves lapping at the shore. As soon as the snow melts in the Okanagan Valley, many of us start eagerly anticipating summer boating on Okanagan Lake. And then, just as you drop the boat in the water for the summer, rising Okanagan Lake water levels threaten to restrict boating, and you’re wondering: Can you boat on Okanagan Lake right now?

For more than four decades, the team at Shoreline has been recording water levels every single day. We’ve noted the trends and annual variances and everything in between. This year, the water levels have reached near-record highs, and we know many of our clients have questions.

So, we wanted to bring you answers about Okanagan Lake water levels and whether or not boating is allowed when water levels are high. As your local experts, here are some of our frequently asked questions and the answers you’re looking for.

What causes the increased lake levels?

Okagan Lake Water Basin - Shoreline Pile Driving

There are a number of factors that can contribute to high lake levels in the Okanagan Water Basin, such as annual snowpack, rain and drainage from surrounding mountain lakes.

The Okanagan Water Basin stretches from Armstrong right to the United States border in Osoyoos and encompasses six lakes:

  • Okanagan
  • Kalamalka
  • Wood
  • Skaha
  • Vaseaux
  • Osoyoos

When the basin fills up too quickly, the water doesn’t drain fast enough. Like all water systems, the basin flows into the ocean; however, the flow rate is very low.

Who monitors the lake levels?

At Shoreline, we measure the water levels every day and have records dating back several decades. The government keeps records as well. However, we do this ourselves to monitor trends and help our Okanagan boat lift and dock clients prepare for flooding and other concerns high water levels can cause.

Is there a way to keep the levels down?

The basin can be drained through the dam in Penticton. However, there are some things to be mindful of when this method is considered. The Penticton dam can only drain at a maximum speed of 1.75 centimetres per day. To release more water than that, the entire canal would need to be reconstructed.

It’s also important that only a small amount of water is released early in the season, if possible. Many of the orchards in the southern Okanagan region rely on the water levels in the surrounding lakes. By releasing too much too soon, the farms and orchards wouldn’t have enough water to sustain their usual bountiful crops.

Will high levels cause damage to my Okanagan boat lift or dock?

After the massive lakeshore flooding that occurred in 2017, many changes were made to protect the structures on the lake. One of the more notable changes is that Okanagan boat docks and boat lifts must now be built to a certain height. This height is tall enough to protect the structures from water damage should the Okanagan Lake water levels reach similar levels again.

Another notable feature that’s been introduced since 2017 is the way dock builders are building and installing docks and lifts. At Shoreline, we’ve introduced stronger building materials, such as aluminum and steel, and adding more hardware, in addition to raising docks and lifts to the new mandated heights.

To learn more about how aluminum docks perform, check out our article: Why Aluminum is a Great Dock Building Material.

High Water Levels - Can you boat on Okanagan Lake right now. Shoreline Pile Driving Insights

What can I do to protect my property?

If you’re worried about flash flooding or rising lake levels, there are a few things you can do to protect Kelowna boat docks and boat lifts. For a short-term solution, you can:

  • Lift your boat out of the water
  • Weigh the dock down with cinder blocks or sand bags
  • Turn off any electric circuits you may have connect to the lift or dock
  • Put away water toys and boat accessories

If your dock or boat lift survived the flooding of 2017, but you’re worried it may not survive the next high-water event, our team can work with you to raise and strengthen your current system.

Can you boat on Okanagan Lake right now?

Even with lake levels as high as they are, boating on Okanagan Lake is still allowed. However, boaters are strongly encouraged to take the necessary steps to help protect property along the shore. Please reduce your speed to keep the wake low when traveling close to shore.