About Anna Warwick Sears

Anna Warwick Sears is the Executive Director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, a local government agency focused on collaborative water resource management in the arid interior of B.C. Dr. Sears received a PhD in population biology at the University of California – Davis, modeling competition for resources in arid environments. Before coming to the Okanagan in 2006, Anna was the Research Director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, an environmental NGO in California, leading watershed restoration and planning initiatives. Anna is passionate about using science to solve real-world problems and building bridges with community stakeholders. In her free time, she likes to explore the food and wine of the Okanagan valley. She lives in Kelowna.

Our water future is just beginning

Patience, time and money accommodate all things.” – Spanish Proverb

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BC Parliament on a summer day. Photo by Brynne Herbison

BC is in the middle of another resource development boom. Water isn’t one of them, but as always, is central to everything.

More than 100 years ago, the Water Act was created to bring order to the mining industry. Prospectors needed flumes to wash the gravels and extract the ores, and they needed to know that the guy upstream wouldn’t divert the flow.

Times have changed, and the resources are different. The new gold is natural gas, along with hydro-power, expansion of irrigated agriculture and the thirst of growing cities. The Water Act is being updated as the Water Sustainability Act, to protect the needs of the new economy while also protecting natural water systems.

We’ve had waves of opportunities for public comment, starting in 2008 when the Premier’s office released Living Water Smart, their plan for BC’s water future. Now, years later, we are seeing how our recommendations have been weighed and measured, in the final legislative proposal released on October 18th.

This is really an historic time and when the Act passes the legislature this coming spring, we’ll be throwing a big party. On the other hand, turning the law into regulations and making the changes they’re calling for will take active, tenacious involvement of everyone who cares about water. It will be a tall task with ticklish trade-offs.

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Not waiting for Noah

Planning is best done in advance.” – Anonymous

Neighborhood on the South Saskatchewan river, June 2013

Flying into Calgary at the end of June, everyone on the plane was glued to the windows, staring at the mess of mud and debris from the Great Flood.

Eventually, rivers always have their own way.

Embarrassingly, I was there to speak at the Canadian Water Summit about collaborative drought planning. By a miracle of organization, the Summit was hastily relocated from the flooded Stampede grounds to a nearby airport hotel. I gave my talk as planned, with some blushing and a few words about unpredictable extreme events.

One of many outrageous pictures from the recent flooding in Colorado

One of many outrageous pictures from the recent flooding in Colorado

A drought could come next year.

The situation was made even more ironic, because I’d just spent several months getting my head around collaborative flood planning, much more topical under the circumstances. The deadly mudslides in BC last year had left me feeling that we are even less prepared for floods than water shortages. Continue reading

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Zebra mussels: scarier than Jurassic Park.

The Don't Move a Mussel muscle shirts have been a big hit.

“They’ll clump on rock, they’ll clump in pipe, and they’ll clump mussel-next-to-mussel-atop-mussel in astonishing congregations of as many as 70,000 individuals a square foot” – Sue McGrath

It’s hard to get people excited about invisible threats that haven’t arrived yet, but sometimes that’s what you have to do.

Let’s make a list of undesirable things: salmon extinctions, toxic algae blooms, beach closures, clogged water intakes and storm drains, botulism toxin… The unpleasantries associated with the small but numerous zebra and quagga mussels are many and varied. Continue reading

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Water Day, every day

Why isn’t every day Water Day?” – Peter Gleick, on Twitter

Dear Readers,

Taken by Judie Steeves for her article "Myth of Abundance" in the Kelowna Capital News

Canada Water Week, and World Water Day (March 22) have come and gone, and I hope you all took the opportunity to lift a long, cool glass and marvel at the wonder and privilege to have such a beautiful, precious thing flow freely from our taps.  Nonetheless, this seems a good opportunity to celebrate progress in the year past, to look at where we’ve fallen behind, and to make plans for the future.

First, I want to apologize for the long blog-drought on Building Bridges. Over the past few months I’ve been taking time for family: the short illness and peaceful passing of my father. He had a great love for this blog, and I often thought of him while writing – to educate and entertain an intelligent, caring member of the public. In that spirit, I continue. Continue reading

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Lessons from Sandy: disaster isn’t our only option

Do we renovate? Of course we renovate,” Ms. Fisher said. “But what if it happens again, next year and the year after?” – NY Times, 11/23/2012.

Unpleasant Weather: Mother Nature gave us a good smacking in 2012, as if to say “Smarten up! Get your act together!” Here in B.C., outrageous spring rainfall brought terrible mud-slides. All summer in the U.S. and Central Canada, there were devastating droughts. Windstorms knocked out power for millions of people during record heat waves.

Not everyone in Manhattan was taking Hurricane Sandy seriously.

When Hurricane Sandy came around, the Onion, a satirical newspaper, published an article headlined, “Nation suddenly realizes this is just going to be a thing that happens from now on.” FEMA appealed for extra flood-relief funds from Congress, President Obama called for insurance companies to do their part, and clean-up efforts began.

If we really accept that “this is just going to be a thing that happens,” now is a good time to revisit our development planning. We really don’t have to live like this. Change is daunting, but doable.

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The Dirt Makes the Difference.

“Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring…the soil.” Rattan Lal

Soil/Water Conservation: Coming in from the garden this weekend, I went straight to the sink to wash my hands. Carefully turning off the tap while soaping, I readjusted the faucet, and rinsed off the gritty brown lather.

Ironically, it is the dirt, not the act of turning off the tap, that really saves water. Yes, my friends, some of the most effective things for water conservation are not the most intuitive. The soil in our yards and gardens is one of the most powerful forces we have for water conservation and pollution prevention.

Not that I shouldn’t wash my hands regularly and with care.

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The Value of Water

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.” – Benjamin Franklin

Expensive On Other Planets:  In Salt Lake City, I once met an exobiologist who studied the bacteria that live under the Antarctic ice-sheet. Camping in a tent, she spent her days diving into holes in frozen lakes to collect samples. She told me it was a “Mars model,” considered one of the few places on earth that can approximate extraterrestrial conditions.

NASA’s latest mission just spent $2.5 billion dollars to actually look for water on Mars. Its simple presence is a signal that life can exist, whatever planet you are on. Whether or not one feels this is money well spent, it shows the lengths we’ll go and the money we’ll spend on water. Continue reading

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Getting beyond inertia and disaster-driven policy response

This is your time and it feels normal to you, but really there is no normal.  There’s only change and resistance to it and then more change.“ –  Meryl Streep

I’ve been writing about change lately – change in climate and population. But it will take even more change to adapt to new conditions.  The challenge is knowing where we are vulnerable and how to respond, so we can protect the things we love.  But how do we get through the inertia to action?

Summer rains on Kootenay Lake - photo taken a few days before and a few kilometres north of the Johnson's Landing slide. Courtesy of Brynne Herbison.

It’s as true for individuals as whole communities.  People tend to trust their odds for most things – but suddenly, without warning, the ground can shift beneath us.

I’ve been deeply unsettled by news of the mudslide in Johnson’s Landing last week – a place I’ve visited often.  A tragedy is the worst kind of catalyst for change. Continue reading

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Mud-bogging and other ways we love the land too hard

 “And now you can’t even take your rubber off the road without getting a fine or be accused of tearing up delicate marshland water sheds or creeks… some people love driving a truck thru the mud getting stuck. And having someone of the same let’s call it sport pulling them out.”Kelowna mudbogging forum

Mud bogging trucks in a drinking water reservoir - photo courtesy of Greater Vernon Water

When I start counting up the complex issues in watersheds, I run out of numbers. 

In a province of 4,618,777 people (as of today), our love of the great outdoors is wearing heavy on the landscape.

My last post was about people, climate change, and water use – with perhaps 30-45% population growth within the next generation. The cummulative effect of having more people depends on where and how we live.

It’s a similar story with people and pollution. Continue reading

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Weddings, weird weather, and where to fit everyone

Do not compute the totality of your poultry population until all the manifestations of incubation have been entirely completed.” – William Jennings Bryan

I’m calling 2012 “the year of weddings and babies” – there are dozens popping up on my facebook.  It’s also the year of the dragon, and my friend from China says many couples purposely plan and wait to have “dragon babies.” There’s a feeling of exuberance in the air.

Flower girl Noli, at a June wedding.

And so, with celebration, the population grows. Much has been written about global carrying capacity, but we are human, here and now.

Where will everyone live? Some are moving here - BC Stats says 45% more for the Central Okanagan by 2036 – maybe 70,000 or 80,000 new people. Other regional districts may grow more slowly, but this seems like a good proxy for growth up and down the urban core of the valley.

It’s a beautiful place to be. We actively try to attract young families and workers; and the retirees come with little coaxing. It’s part of a great global migration.

And what about the water? This year there is no lack of rain, but it always pays to be thoughtful about essential resources. As we have more people, we’ll need more clean drinking water, and more fresh fruit and vegetables.We’ll have more neighbours to feel the effects of floods and shortages, and more of us will be out hiking and biking in the watershed. We’ll have bigger demands for lumber and gravel, more boats on the lake, more everything. Continue reading

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