Drought fears prompts Okanagan water restrictions

British Columbia’s Okanagan region is known for its wineries and fruit, but this year a water shortage could threaten the bounty.

Growers rely on a steady supply of water to produce the crops, but there’s a lot less to rely on this year, and experts say it could get worse because of a lower than average snow pack.

At McCulloch Lake, which serves East Kelowna, water levels are at about two-thirds of normal.

Jerry Fowler, McCulloch Lake camp host, says it’s the worst he’s seen it his 17 years in the area.

"This is the lowest I’ve ever seen it in June," he said. "Most of the time it’s all the way up to the top of the dyke."

The low water levels presents a problem for the water utility, who have implemented what they call "stage two" watering restrictions to ease the problem.

"Normally at this time of year, our reservoirs are full and spilling so clearly we’re going to be water short this year," Toby Pike of the Southeast Kelowna Irrigation District said.

Lawn-watering is now limited to two days per week, and prohibited between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Other uses are banned altogether, including:

  • Washing sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots
  • Watering for dust control
  • Washing buildings and structures
  • Flushing out roof gutters

Local growers are being asked to decrease water use by 20 per cent – and those who don’t could face severe penalties.

"The board of trustees has the option to actually discontinue service, to actually shut them off," Pike said.

Growers with efficient watering systems may not have a problem, but some growers don’t have that kind of equipment it could be more difficult. It comes at a time when returns to growers are so low, few can afford to upgrade.

"This is not cheap stuff," orchid grower Nick Kiran said. "Ten acres, you’re looking at $60,000, $70,000."

Unless there’s a lot of rain and soon, the 2009 Okanagan summer is shaping up to be a very dry one.