Critical resource in a critical time

Few people would argue against the idea that water plays a critical role in the economic health of the Okanagan. From agriculture to tourism, it’s a necessity for many of the valley’s primary industries.

Recently, Lake Country council recognized the importance of effective water management when it gave its support to the Central Okanagan Regional District renewing a 2005 resolution permitting the Okanagan Basin Water Board to implement its water management program.

“Water is one of the most important issues in the twenty first century. We’re living in a really critical time,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director for the OBWB.

Originally established in 1970 the OBWB was setup in response to calls from the public, business leaders and from the scientific community for better water management. In 2005, the water management program was conditionally approved by the three regional districts subject to a three year review. April 1, 2009 marks the renewal date for the program.

The water management program is fundamentally important to the OBWB because it gives the organization the power to carry out a diverse range of projects and studies that assist and benefit local governments and communities.

At the CORD meeting Sept. 15, directors endorsed the renewal of the program subject to its annual budget approval.

The North Okanagan and Okanagan-Similkameen regional districts must also ratify the agreement.

The OBWB operates as a hub for information, a source of funding for water projects and as a voice for the Okanagan to senior levels of government on water related issues.

Through its water management plan, the organization has the unique ability to undertake basin wide initiatives that would be impossibly difficult for individual municipalities to coordinate and carry out.

One such undertaking is the water supply and demand project which seeks to gather up-to-date information on water needs and availability for the coming years while taking into account factors such as climate change and population growth.

In the two-and-a-half years since the water management program was put into place, the OBWB has also contributed to building partnerships amongst water stakeholders, become actively involved in studying water quality and quantity, issued grants to a wide variety of stakeholders including the Oceola Fish and Game Club and the District of Lake Country, and stressed the importance of gaining a better understanding of groundwater in the Okanagan basin.

The OBWB is funded by all of the valley’s residents at an annual rate of two cents per $1,000 of assessed home value. Additional funding is also secured through external grants.

Should one or more regional district not sign on to the renewal, the responsibilities of the OBWB would be relegated to its pre-2005 duties which include milfoil control and issuing grants to local governments to install new sewer services.