Responding to concerns about the valley’s water supply, the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council has begun to develop a sustainable water strategy for the Okanagan Basin. At a Council meeting last week in Kelowna, representatives from the Ministry of Environment, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Interior Health addressed the group on issues ranging from water licensing to “boil water” advisories. After debating the ability of current laws to protect water resources, Council members were cautiously optimistic: “We don’t need the Province to pass a lot of new regulations, we just need to implement the ones we have” said Bob Hrasko, a director of the Water Supply Association of BC. Nonetheless, the Council agreed on the need for local policies and bylaws to support water conservation.
The Council was unanimous that long-term water planning will need more information on water use. This struck a chord with John Slater, Chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board. “The Board is relying on the Council for technical advice to improve the way we use water in this valley. We’d like to see clear policy recommendations on water metering for homes and agriculture.” Denise Neilsen, a research scientist from the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, warned that the benefits of metering depend on how the information is used: “The big challenge is going to be climate change and variability, and gathering data is not enough – we need plans and policies to take into account variations in water supply.” Anna Warwick Sears, Water Stewardship Director for the Board, agreed: “There are a lot of details to be worked out, but what’s important is that everyone is at the table now.”
The Okanagan Water Stewardship Council is an independent advisory body of technical experts and water stakeholder representatives; established by the Water Board for guidance on regional water issues. Along with a sustainable water strategy, the Council aims to develop a “report card” on the status of water management up and down the valley. For more information, see www.obwb.ca.