By Steve Hubrecht
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The freshet has arrived in the Columbia Valley, and this year it’s managed to get Toby Creek flowing up the Columbia River into Lake Windermere. That’s right: for several days in the first few weeks of June, the distinctly blue waters of Toby Creek were coming down from the mountains with enough velocity and volume that the creek was not just joining the muddy grey Columbia River on its journey downstream, but was also pushing back upstream through the wetlands immediately south of the Columbia-Toby Creek confluence, then up a narrow stretch of the Columbia River proper right to — and indeed then right past — the mouth of the Columbia on Lake Windermere, out into the lake itself.

A large swath of the bay-like northern end of the lake, by James Chabot Provincial Park, swirled with logs, sticks and other debris swept in by the Toby. Some residents reported seeing the debris build up as far down the lake as Fort Point.

The upstream flow of the Toby into the lake was hardly the only sign of the freshet: the water off Kinsmen Beach went from shin-deep and lukewarm to chest-deep and ice cold seemingly overnight, and, of course, three evacuation alerts were issued in and around the Fairmont Hot Springs area as debris filled flood mitigation systems on Cold Spring Creek and Fairmont Creek, and then Dutch Creek topped its banks.

But the sheer visual impact of the Toby Creek upstream flow was impossible to miss, given the starkly contrasting colours (the electric blue of the Toby standing out against the murky grey of the Columbia), and because it’s more than a little eye-catching to see water flowing upstream.

“That does happen sometimes, with the freshet, but this year it really made Toby Creek back up into Lake Windermere quite significantly,” Lake Windermere Ambassadors program coordinator Shannon McGinty told the Pioneer. “Normally things flow northward under the Athalmer bridge. Now they are flowing southward. It’s a juxtaposition from what you would normally see.”

Toby Creek has a markedly different bright blue colour during the freshet compared with the Columbia because each watercourse carries different types of sediment, explained McGinty, adding that the Toby has a lot of glacial silt and sediment.

“When that mixes into the lake, then you get a bit of a different colour than you would normally see,” she said.

The freshet in the Columbia Valley usually happens sometime around the start of June. Freshet is the term used to describe the rise in rivers and lake levels that often accompanies spring thaw.

“It happens every year, at the transition between spring and summer. There are warmer temperatures, snow melts, and rivers and streams get higher,” said McGinty, adding in the Columbia Valley the freshet often coincides with increased levels of rainfall in the spring.

“Sometimes debris comes down with the runoff. In the lake, we see a higher level of turbidity,” she said.

“It’s all part of the process.”