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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No vacation in the Salmon Nation

All men are equal before fish.” – Herbert Hoover

Last week, I attended a workshop in Portland, Oregon, on the future of salmon under climate change.  Our delegation had been invited to talk about the resurgence of sockeye in the Okanagan River, and our experiences with collaboration. Scientists, managers, fishers, First Nations, and other friends of fish, gathered from around the north Pacific to talk about good news, bad news, and what’s possible. It was a diverse group from far-flung geography,  bound together by the need to manage salmon under rapidly changing conditions.

And while much of the conversation was focused on science, there was an important thread about values. What we protect and care for depends strongly on what we value as communities.

While there is uncertainty about the impacts of climate change in specific salmon areas, almost all models project the same outcome: warming waters, summer and winter. Warmer summer waters interfere with spawning, rearing, and migration – and can lead to fish kills in oxygen-poor water.  Warmer waters in winter (particularly in the ocean) could expand the range of salmon to the north as the sea ice breaks up; but this wouldn’t replace the loss of salmon to southern ecosystems and communities. Continue reading

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Simple, home-grown solutions for the Osoyoos international water agreement.

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

It is hard to think of anything more controversial than “Americans taking our water.” Questions come up at almost every public meeting. The concerns are not entirely unfounded: in general (as Trudeau famously remarked), living next door to the US is a lot like sleeping next to an elephant – feeling every twitch and grunt. This underlying sentiment, and the need to meet Okanagan water demand and environmental flows while being good neighbours, has created intense interest in the renewal of the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) agreement for Osoyoos Lake.

The Zosel Dam, circa 1970 - from the IJC website.

In this post, I want to share our “Made in the Okanagan” solution for the 2013 renewal of the Osoyoos Lake Operating Orders for Zosel Dam.

The orders’ main goals are to control floods and prevent water shortages. But everyone wants more certainty about water supplies on both sides of the international border – including water for the Okanagan’s reviving sockeye run. The reach most at issue for the US is the short stretch of river between the dam and its confluence with the mighty Similkameen River. While “certainty” may be out of reach in this era of environmental change, I feel we’ve come up with a strong set of action steps to get to our (bilateral) goals. Continue reading

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Osoyoos Lake: Live

It starts with the water. If you don’t have good water, the plants and animals will tell us we aren’t doing our job…They are an important part of our family – if a place doesn’t have plants and animals, it won’t have humans.” – Chief Clarence Louie, Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum, September 18, 2011.

Welcome to the Salmon Nation.  One day into the Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum and my head is filled with fish.  For thousands of years, the Okanagan people fished sockeye here. They are salmon people – with a territory stretching south to Oregon and north and east through the southern interior of BC.  We are here in Osoyoos this week to talk about a lot of different issues, but none more symbolic and integrative than the return of the sockeye.

Small girl, tiny dog, huge salmon.

The Osoyoos sockeye run is the eastern frontier for fish coming up the Columbia. The run used to reach far up the system, but dozens of smaller dams interrupted the passage. Last night, Chief Clarence Louie told a story about how when the Grand Coulee dam was completed, they invited the chiefs and dancers to come and celebrate in their regalia. “There is a picture of all these chiefs, standing and looking at the dam, and I just think, how sad that is, how mad and disappointed those chiefs must be, knowing that the dams have taken away the salmon.”Chief Clarence Louie giving a speech at the Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, to mark the beginning of the 2011 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum Continue reading

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Loving the lake so much it hurts: why we need a whole-lake plan.

Water, like religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Since the very birth of human civilization, people have moved to settle close to it. People move when there is too little of it. People move when there is too much of it. People journey down it. People write, sing and dance about it. People fight over it. And all people, everywhere and every day, need it.” – Mikhail Gorbachev

Here in the Okanagan, we’ve had a summer of news and controversy about lakeshore protection.  One study, covered by the Globe and Mail, reported that when provincial staff randomly checked 35 lakeshore properties on Okanagan Lake, they found 35 violations for structures or other disturbances to the foreshore. In July, a Foreshore Inventory Mapping study by a group of local governments and environmental organizations (OCCP), found that only 46% of Okanagan Lakeshore remains in a natural state. Later that month, in an editorial to the Vancouver Sun, Tom Siddon, former federal fisheries minister, called on the Premier to set a national example and improve protections through the modernization of the Water Act.

I think of this situation as “death by a thousand cuts,” and would like to address it in a way that doesn’t involve a thousand Band-Aids. This is an issue for water quality protection, as much as anything. I had a visitor from China this summer who couldn’t get over the health of our water, protected by the natural areas around the lake. Continue reading

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Osoyoos Lake – bringing international agreements down home

Wherever you go, there you are” – Mac Rauch (Buckaroo Banzai)

There will be heavy-hitters from Ottawa and Washington D.C. in Osoyoos next month, but they won’t be wearing dark suits and carrying brief cases.  They’ll be listening and talking to US and Canadian locals about the renewal of the Osoyoos Lake Operating Orders, hearing water science updates, and sharing in-season sockeye salmon, apples and pears.

I’m really interested in the potential of this cultural and political mixing, and the opportunity to be innovative when you take a bilateral agreement down home.

Bringing it all back home: In 2007, locals from the towns of Osoyoos and Oliver (in Canada) gathered with residents of Oroville and other communities just south of the border, joined by leading scientists, politicians, policy makers and agency folks – to discuss international policy for Osoyoos Lake.

Every good relationship needs care and communication – including our international co-habitation of Osoyoos Lake, which crosses the 49th parallel.  Most Canadians are a bit on edge about the US thirst for water. We want to cooperate, but there is a cautious pragmatism.  The Okanagan has relatively low flows, and we rely on irrigated agriculture.  On the other side, they have trouble in the Okanogan (American spelling)  “keeping up with the Canadians,” who come in droves to buy inexpensive vacation properties. The Americans have irrigated agriculture and water concerns of their own.

Then there are those that know no boundaries – the easternmost run of Pacific sockeye salmon in the Columbia are enjoying their second record-breaking year in a row for Osoyoos Lake and the Okanagan River.  This has huge significance for the Okanagan Nation, the Syilx people who have relied on and celebrated these salmon for thousands of years.

In September, the Town of Osoyoos will host the 2011 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum: “Shared water, shared future: bridges to sustainability for Osoyoos Lake”.  It is a follow-up to a 2007 Forum, but a step forward – very interesting and very unusual.  Continue reading

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