Okanagan could be site of trial water projects

The Okanagan is B.C.’s canary in the coal mine as far as water is concerned, so it could be the site of some trial projects under the province’s new Living Water Smart plan for sustainable water use.

Speaking to the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council Thursday, Lynn Kriwoken, director of innovation and planning for the water stewardship division of the environment ministry, said they are looking to institute groundwater regulations in a trial area by 2012, for instance.

With the Living Water Smart plan, unveiled earlier this year, she said there has been a fundamental shift in water management in the province.

With government getting smaller and taking on more of a monitoring role, she said there will need to be greater community involvement in water management.

The stewardship council and the Okanagan Basin Water Board to which it makes recommendations, indicate this basin is “on the right track” with such community-based bodies.

Nelson Jatel, water stewardship director for the OBWB, said groundwater is a priority of the council, as is drought management and strong riparian protection, both to support water quality and to provide adequate stream flows.

He noted that the Okanagan is the most arid region in the province and there is the most pressure on its watersheds, plus there are international impacts on water use in this basin, since it flows from this basin into the U.S.

“Our snowpack is also more vulnerable to climate change,” commented Tom Siddon, council chairman.

Kriwoken had some positive comments on the council’s draft version of an Okanagan Sustainable Water Strategy, which is to be released in October at the One Watershed-One Water conference in Kelowna.

It takes up where the province’s Living Water Smart plan leaves off, she said. The cornerstone of the plan is stream health, she noted, calling it a “comprehensive water strategy” for the whole basin.

B.C. has 219,000 watersheds where water is used for transportation, power, drinking, recreation, irrigation and industry, so it’s important to manage it with care, and conserve it so there’s enough for the future, according to the water smart literature.

Since nothing that lives on Earth can survive without water and there is a finite supply, it’s important to protect ecological values and encourage efficient use of water.

“The days of taking our ‘unlimited’ supply of water for granted are over,” according to the literature.

As part of the program, the province has pledged support for watershed management planning, and by 2012 all large water users will be required to measure and report their water use.

Agriculture will be required to use water more efficiently, but water for agriculture will be secured for lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve.