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Come fire and high water from... cars in Kelowna?

10 May 2020 | Fact Checks

Kelowna Fact Check


John Robson

It’s often said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth even gets its boots on. It seems especially the case when politicians make up nonsense about climate change. Which happens a lot these days.

Even if the truth eventually catches up, as it usually does, it’s not until a long time later, and it can be hard to correct the initial impression. But here’s one story of the truth catching up, and giving the boot to some serious errors.

I’m John Robson. Welcome to the CDN Fact Check on the Okanagan floods and fires of 2017.


In the summer of 2017, Okanagan Lake in central British Columbia flooded its banks and caused extensive property damage in the city of Kelowna. Then in mid-July, a massive outbreak of aggressive forest fires blanketed the region with smoke.

That same year the citizens of Kelowna were angry about a backlog of road maintenance problems that were causing excessive traffic jams in the city.

Mayor Colin Basran responded by blaming the flooding and forest fires on carbon dioxide emissions from Kelowna cars, and claimed that expanding the local road network would make these problems worse.

He even expressed frustration that people in his city expected him to fix the roads when what he really should be doing was saving the planet, including by not fixing the roads.

John Robson

Were Kelowna drivers to blame for the floods and forest fires? Let’s check the facts, starting with the Environment Canada temperature record for Kelowna, which goes back to 1899. You can see the data online at YourEnvironment.ca. And monthly average daytime highs in the spring bounce around a little but fundamentally they haven’t changed in over 100 years.

So even if warming leads to more floods, where’s the warming?


For instance, in a special study on extreme weather in 2012, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself concluded: “In the United States and Canada during the 20th century and in the early 21st century, there is no compelling evidence for climate-driven changes in the magnitude or frequency of floods”

John Robson

Do you hear that Mr. Mayor? No compelling evidence. So, what did cause the 2017 Okanagan floods? Well, here we do have some compelling evidence. It was government error.


Specifically, a report commissioned by the BC government showed that while the spring was wetter than normal, the previous winter around Kelowna was actually colder and drier than normal. And this dry winter led local authorities to forecast a dry summer, so they instructed the water manager to let Okanagan lake fill as high as possible. But starting in March, heavy rains set in at some locations and water inflow began to rise.

At that point the water manager wisely ignored the model forecasts and began letting water out of the lake. But it was already too late. By May the rains were double what had been forecast, and even at the maximum drainage rate the lake overflowed its banks.

John Robson

The problem wasn’t climate change, it was poor forecasting. And as I think has been suggested before, if they can’t forecast the weather six months ahead, it’s not that reasonable to think they can forecast it six decades ahead.

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OK, but what about the forest fires? Now it’s true that the summer of 2017 was the worst for forest fires in BC since 1958. But, like 1958, it wasn’t the result of climate change.

You see, the spring of that year was actually unusually quiet on the fire front. The BC Wildfire Service noted that “Between April and the end of June, 255 wildfires had burned 1,625 hectares of land. In an average fire season, there would have been about 420 fires and 26,800 hectares burned in this same time span.” Nearly twice as many fires, well over 10 times as many hectares burned.

As for the summer, the large number of wildfires was started by an intense cluster of thunderstorms between July 6 and July 8, not by Kelowna drivers. Unless warming also causes thunderstorms and Kelowna drivers caused warming.

No, actually, even then there’s no connection because, for BC as a whole, the national forestry database shows that the number of fires across the province has actually been declining slightly over the past few decades.

If climate change causes more forest fires, regardless of whether Kelowna drivers caused the climate change, why are there fewer forest fires?

Finally, let’s put Kelowna in perspective, to see how ridiculous it is to blame its drivers for anything except perhaps failing to signal a turn.


This picturesque city in southern BC contains only about 0.6% of Canadian drivers, and Canadian drivers account for about one-sixth of our manmade GHG’s, so Kelowna’s drivers are responsible for about 0.1 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and since Canada accounts for three percent of all manmade GHGs, Kelowna’s drivers create roughly three one-thousandths of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 0.003 percent. You could double or triple the number of cars on Kelowna streets and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to the global climate system.

John Robson

So there you have it. The 2017 flooding was caused by improper lake level management due to poor forecasting after an unusually dry winter. And the summer 2017 wildfire season was caused by a string of thunderstorms after a quiet fire spring. And Kelowna’s drivers had nothing to do with either, not even the ones stuck idling in traffic on congested roads due to poor municipal management.

When Kelowna mayor Colin Basran blamed fire and flooding instead on Kelowna drivers, he was just doing what countless uninformed politicians have done and continue to do: parroting alarmist clichés about climate change to make him feel important and you feel guilty. And this kind of misleading rhetoric is reaching epidemic proportions.

So it’s time we got our boots on. Meanwhile, my advice to you is this: If your mayor won’t fix the roads in front of your house because he says he’s busy saving the planet and you’re busy destroying it, get a new mayor.

Join us online at climatediscussionnexus.com, subscribe to our YouTube channel and our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and help us with our work by going to our Patreon page and making a pledge.

For the Climate Discussion Nexus, I’m John Robson.

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