OBWB Drought Update #4

Dear Okanagan Local Governments and Water Purveyors,

Since my last update, a Level 4 drought has been declared for the Nicola. The Okanagan, the Kettle, and the South Thompson are currently under review, at a meeting of the Regional Drought Response Team today. We should hear the determination tomorrow or Monday.

If a Level 4 drought is issued, it allows the province to regulate under (the old) Water Act orders (based on FITFIR – “First in Time, First in Right”), and/or Section 9 of the Fish Protection Act when the survival of fish populations is threatened due to low water levels. I’ve been told that the decisions for the provincial response to a Level 4 in Okanagan would be informed by the experiences they’ve had applying the Level 4 in other areas. This is a bit vague, but reflects the fact that water managers have never seen drought conditions like this before in BC – so widespread, and with so many stream closures.

From the July 21st information bulletin by FLNRO: “Any such actions will be site specific depending on individual stream conditions. Specific actions could include the temporary suspension of water licences or short-term water approvals in affected watersheds if necessary. Ministry water management staff will continue to monitor conditions, work closely with First Nations, local governments and key stakeholders, and provide updates as the need arises.”

There’s been a bit of a debate about  Okanagan lake levels and what they mean with respect to water withdrawals. According to the dam operator, our full pool was a foot above where we were in the last drought of 2009, however,  I’ve attached a graph from the Water Survey of Canada, showing the decline in Okanagan Lake levels since June (with conservative management by the dam operator).

We’ve also had several questions about the 30% requested reduction in water use under the Level 3 Drought Declaration, and how that should be calculated. I’ve asked the province for some guidance, as I’m neither an hydrologist or water manager, but have yet to hear back. Two other  independent suggestions I’ve received are: 30% of high-demand (e.g., water use last month), or 30% of long-term average for July use.

Other info:

  • As of today, DFO has closed the recreational fishery throughout the Okanagan – lakes as well as streams – for all salmon species. This is because of low water levels and high water temperatures that put stress on fish.
  • The SEKID website states that some of the irrigators have already passed their annual allocation, and many others are close to the top of theirs.
  • The OBWB is reaching out to the general public, urging individuals, families and businesses to do what they can to Make Water Work, and use only what they need.
  • RDOS, Peachland, and Penticton have issued press releases asking their residents to reduce water use to help meet the 30% reduction target.

And here’s the latest news from Kim Hyatt at DFO, about the Okanagan sockeye.

“The biggest problem thus far this year has materialized downstream in the Columbia itself where early “spiking” of summer temperatures are resulting in queuing of migrating fish below John Day Reservoir and McNary Dam. The condition of fish in the Columbia is also deteriorating at an alarming rate (see attached weekly technical memo from Jeff Fryer). There are 5000 or fewer adult sockeye in Osoyoos lake at present with an estimated 200,000 more holding downstream in Wells Pool on the Columbia; not really much we can do at present for these fish until “mother nature” cooperates. However, there is also a “bumper crop” of sockeye fry now rearing in Osoyoos lake with the largest recruitment on record observed there this spring (i.e. 16, 000,000 fry relative to an all year average of less than 1 million fry). In collaboration with the ONA, we will follow water quality conditions and the fate of this cohort closely given the almost certain failure of the adult run that is materializing before our eyes this year.”

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