Water's Destructive Power

By Kim Christensen

Published 18 May 2017 in Kamloops This Week

The destructive power of water is a hot topic right now as we see municipalities throughout the province declaring states of emergency, including here in Kamloops, where unstable slopes are threatening many homes.

In my own neighbourhood, residents are mourning damage to their yards and gardens (and lamenting the loss of easy access to our local store) as raging creek waters have forged new paths with little regard for structures or roadways.

These flooding events also have the power to damage what remains of some of the area’s earliest First Nations village sites. 

Many of these early villages, which have become archeological sites, were built on the very banks of the waterways that are flooding today.

And they can be damaged in the same way that houses built on creek and river banks are impacted.

An example of this can be seen at an archeological site north of Kamloops, on the bank of the North Thompson River just downstream from the outlet of a large creek.

This particular site is made up of nearly 20 circular depressions of varying sizes; these depressions represent what remain of the village’s original pit-house structures, as well as cache (storage)   and roasting pits.

What is interesting about this site in particular is that it is located across the river from an oxbow channel.

When visiting, I wondered how the oxbow had formed and if that process had affected the archeological site.

A review of historic air photos revealed the river was still in its original channel in the mid-1940s and what is now the oxbow was the main channel at the time.

Air photos from the 1960s, however, revealed that within
the intervening 20 years, the river had pushed through the narrow strip of land and created a new river channel.

Digging deeper, I learned that in the late 1940s, during a year of especially heavy rain and flooding (sound familiar?), a small local dam had given way and an enormous flood of water came rushing down the creek bed, slamming into the river just upstream from this archeological site.

This, coupled with the otherwise unusually high flood year, was the force that pushed through the skinny strip of land and created the new river channel and oxbow we see today.

This event also swept away a portion of the archeological site, which appears to have stretched across the river.

Adding to this, the new river channel continues to erode into the bank and the remaining cultural depressions are being lost to the annual rise and fall of water levels.

When an archeological site is damaged, even by natural processes, the unfortunate reality is the loss of cultural heritage and scientific information.

So, as we continue to face ongoing episodes of heavy rain, I am concerned not only for our current villages and homes, but also
for the damage done to the region’s original village sites and the history and knowledge that will be lost with the archeological sites swept away in the floods.