Okanagan conference builds connections, shows way forward, ensuring water for fish, and for all

Kelowna, B.C. – For two days, 250 attendees at the siwłkʷ (WATER) FOR ALL – OUR RESPONSIBILITY… Environmental Flow Needs Conference have been listening, sharing, and discussing how to ensure water for fish, and everything else that depends on water.

The conference was hosted by the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) and the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA) – BC Branch at Kelowna’s Coast Capri Hotel, in partnership with Okanagan Nation Alliance. It brought together representatives from national and international organizations working in water management or research, including fisheries and water managers, First Nations, farmers, ranchers, regulators, policy-makers, academia, and NGOs. The topic: Environmental Flow Needs (EFNs). Essentially, determining how much water is needed for fish and the environment to understand how much water communities can use.

“This was largely about relationship building because EFNs are such a complicated issue,” explains Nelson Jatel, OBWB’s Water Stewardship Director and conference co-chair. “We’re working today not for us, but for our kids’ kids, and there’s no way to do that until we know our neighbours.”

Determining EFNs (or in-stream flow needs) have long been a source of conflict, trying to parcel out what is needed for human vs. environmental needs for water. In regions where significant demand or competition for water exists, such as the Okanagan, scientists, policy-makers, planners, and regulators are developing methods to determine appropriate EFNs. In part, this work is driven by the introduction of B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act in February 2016 which requires that EFNs be determined before granting any new licences for surface or groundwater extractions. This requirement creates the need for better science and dialogue among all water users to reconcile their needs and interests.

For two days, participants focussed on this conflict and used a collaborative process to meet the challenge, integrating Syilx/Okanagan traditions, such as the Four Food Chiefs, traditional knowledge, and the dialogue process.

“Reconciliation is considered an abstract concept by many,” added Jatel. “This week’s conference was intended to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to understand each others’ perspectives and build collective vision.”

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