Julia Blackburn was walking her dog Saturday about noon in the forested mountainside behind her Silver Creek home, the start of what would become a frightening afternoon.
As she walked, she met her neighbours in their truck on the hill. They told her the little creek where they both get their water was starting to flood over onto Salmon River Road. They drove up to investigate and discovered a large crack in one fork of a decommissioned forestry road above, which was starting to fail. They were heading down to report their finding.
Thinking she’d check out the water supply, Blackburn continued walking, deciding to follow the road up above her house where she walks all the time. As she continued alone, she had second thoughts about her safety.
As she turned around to head back, suddenly she heard loud banging. At first she thought it might be a truck coming down the road. Then she listened more closely.
“I could hear trees crashing and water and I started running in the opposite direction. It sounded like the mountain was coming down… You hear this noise, so I started running in the opposite direction away from it. I sensed there was debris and water and I had no idea how big it was. So I was just running away from it. Finally when I felt like I was far enough away from it I called my neighbours immediately and just said, ‘are you guys okay because something has just happened. Something has released on the mountain and I have no idea how big it is and how much is coming down the mountain.’”
Her neighbours told her they were okay, so they came back up the mountain to pick her up. They took the truck up a little farther and looked at the area where she had just walked, “and sure enough, the entire road was washed out.”
They realized the road had failed above and the water was forging a new path, jumping into the creek that supplies their water above their intake. That means their water is now filled with sediment.
She also reports the stream is going through the property of another neighbour below her.
The residents of 10 homes in the 1600 block of Salmon River Road in Silver Creek were evacuated Saturday evening as a precaution, but were allowed to return home Sunday afternoon.
“At this point they don’t know what has caused it, if it’s completely natural or whether something has caused it,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn and her neighbour had organized a community meeting in Silver Creek about a week earlier to raise awareness of logging that has occurred and logging being proposed by Tolko in the watershed.
“I think everybody in the community is quite concerned additional logging could make it worse,” she says of the effects of heavy rain, snow and saturated soil.
She said the community has created a petition requesting a consultation meeting with Tolko, but hasn’t received a response yet.
Marijanel Knight lives on the property where the stream forged a new path.
She said concerns the mudslides have raised are about water sources, what will happen to the water supply for people who rely on the creek and springs above. Another is what will happen to the mountain as it attempts to hold back water.
Regarding future logging, she remarked: “It’s not that anybody is against logging. The areas they’ve chosen, I think may be too big and too close to our water sources and our properties.”
One silver lining to the rain clouds for Knight, who is new to Silver Creek, is this: “I have been very blown away by the neighbours who showed up to help us and the community rallying around each other. It’s been really neat old-fashioned love.”
Silver Creek resident Blu Hopkins doesn’t mince words about logging.
“As far as I’m concerned, these events are a direct result of bad logging practices,” he says, noting that when there are extreme water events, there is no place for the water to go. He points to the slides at Sunnybrae and Hummingbird Creek near Sicamous.
“No bloody way do we want more logging up there,” he says of the Silver Creek flooding.
Scott Seidel’s mom Florence and husband George Swartz were evacuated.
Seidel, who now lives on the Coast but grew up in Silver Creek, is not happy with the way the flooding was handled. He says he’s referring to the way the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure routed the water into ditches on either side of Salmon River Road, taking out the driveways of four homes in the process.
“The Anderson Creek bed was the path of least resistance for the water to take when rushing down the hill,” he wrote in an email. “Previously there has been a culvert to allow the Anderson Creek to pass under the Salmon River Road. Instead of washing out the culvert to allow the water to flow on its original path, the MoTI chose to tear up numerous driveways incurring serious discomfort on the aging community.”
His family’s driveway was one of those affected.
Neither the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) nor the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations nor Tolko responded to requests for information from the Observer.
The government departments stated communications staff are unable to respond to media questions while the provincial election campaign is underway.
Darcy Mooney, Emergency Operations Centre director for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Shuswap Emergency Program, said he has been receiving many questions from residents, so he spoke to the ministries via conference call.
He was given numbers that affected residents could call directly.
Regarding the ditches running through people’s driveways, he said MOTI has indicated putting in culverts at the ends of driveways is the responsibility of the homeowner.
“They’ve indicated as well they have specification sheets, what kind of culverts they recommend…,” he said.
The CSRD continues to make sand and sandbags available at the Silver Creek Fire Hall for residents.