If you’ve lived in Valemount for a long time, you’ve probably gotten used to the whole idea of Kinbasket “Lake.” I keep putting that in quotes, because although it is marked on provincial and online maps as a lake, that can be very misleading. It is actually a reservoir, the largest in the Columbia Basin, and although maps (including online topographical ones) show the outline as it is at full pool, Kinbasket Reservoir is a very different place at low pool. Estimates at this time of year are that the water level can come up a meter a day, which is mind-boggling when you consider the area the reservoir covers (and should remind us of how much water can be running through any of the surrounding creeks at any given time). Every increase in the water level makes the flooded valley floor a different place. It can go from a dusty wasteland capable of creating the dust storm many of us saw last weekend to a mud bog where unsuspecting vehicles (and feet!) can get stuck. The path of Canoe River along the bottom of the valley tends to stay the same, but the thousands of small streams that flow into it can easily change course over the muddy banks, which can be treacherous for the unwary.
We are lucky enough to have a local marina association, and a boat launch and camping spaces, so that we can use the lake in the summer (when it actually appears to be a lake). It is an incredible asset for locals, and for attracting visitors, but we must be mindful that our situation is unique. You may have heard the story I heard, of a group of boating tourists that came to Kinbasket one summer and had such a great time that they decided to come back the next May. They did not know that the lake would not be up to the bottom of the boat launch by that time, and so they apparently enjoyed a weekend on their boat – while it sat on the trailer. We’ve since seen an extension to the boat launch, and the water may actually be at the bottom now, because it was very close last weekend. And one vivid reminder of the power of water in our mountains was floating just below the launch – fresh trees, probably knocked into Canoe River and the lake by the spring’s avalanches.
Every time I have been to Kinbasket, it has seemed to be a different place to me, and I am used to water. I’ve lived near the ocean and small lakes for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in their ebb and flow, in how water carves out its environment, but this is so different from what I knew in the past. I actually love talking to other new-comers to the valley about Kinbasket, I love when they make the realization for themselves, that you can stand on the bottom of a dry lake bed and look up the mountain side, hundreds of feet above your head at what will, in a few months’ time, be the water’s edge.
There are lots of pros and cons about using these valleys (the Canoe River valley and upper the Columbia River valley, which forms the other end of the lake) as a reservoir, but I think it is important that everyone acknowledge and recognize that it is indeed a reservoir. When you acknowledge that, you can then start to understand the myriad implications (both good and bad) of it. I would like to start by suggesting that mapping systems (for example Google Maps) start showing an alternate view of the reservoir, at a lower pool level, and that they label it Kinbasket Reservoir, not Kinbasket Lake. Then it might not be such a shock to the rest of the world.