We must all respond to dire predictions about the future availability of water in the Okanagan with a fundamental shift in personal actions and collective attitudes.
Water, despite contrary appearance, is a finite resource. We can, and possibly will, run out of it one day. These are the central conclusions emerging from our most recent survey of the people and institutions who are monitoring the state of our water supplies.
They, unfortunately, face considerable threats from our actions. Okanagan residents are some of the biggest water consumers in the world. We live in a semi-arid region whose southern-most corners blend into a desert. Yet we nonetheless insist on creating artificial surroundings that consume a lot of water.
No, we are not talking about agriculture. We are talking about the large carpets of lawns sprawling out in front of our homes. Farmers are far from the worst offenders when it comes to wasting water. That dubious distinction belongs to homeowners, and their numbers will only grow as the valley continues to attract new residents and the accompanying development.
This is why we will repeat our earlier calls for increased density throughout the valley. Build up, not out. This will also reduce our reliance on the private automobile, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. This is another reason why we should worry about our local water supplies.
Climate change may increase the number of growing days available to farmers, from 167 now to 216 by 2080. This might be great news for farmers (assuming people still farm in the Okanagan Valley then). But this also means that annual water demand would rise, compounding demand for water during a period of shrinking supply.
This calculation is not sustainable.
Local water supplies also face a related threat: ground contamination. We need to be far more conscious of what we end up putting in our soil — it all sinks into groundwater. The more harmful material ends up in our soil, the more resources we have to spend to remove it from our water. This fact also outlines another reality citizens and their elected decision makers must face. Local water systems do not exist in a vacuum. Effluents from one community can harm all. This is why we demand a leaner and meaner administration of local water supplies.
Those who misuse this precious resource must pay up. Otherwise, future generations will have to suffer the consequences of our current negligence.