Water shortage concerns rising

With the hills already browning under unusually dry conditions, the executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board says it’s going to take a two-tier approach to planning for, and preventing water shortages and droughts in the future.

Anna Warwick-Sears characterizes the Okanagan water basin as one of the most varied water supplies in the country.

“You can’t manage for the average year because we’re not at the average very often,” Warwick-Sears said, speaking to Kelowna city council this week.

And it’s only going to get harder.

Already one of the most arid climates in Canada, global warming is expected to leave the region with even less water supply, as in less snow, and more water demand.

“The Okanagan water basin relies very heavily on snow pack—it’s an important strength and weakness,” she said.

Waterfront property owners aren’t likely to tolerate water providers raising the level of the lake to store more run-off, so saving some of that precious snow melt, even as it slips away, will only goes so far.

It will take careful planning to avoid major problems in the future, particularly in dry years like this one.

As such, the OBW has plans to bring in provincial drought response team advisors to go through the province’s new drought response handbook (Dealing With Drought: A Handbook for Water Suppliers) and will be pulling together a water workshop for water providers coping with impending water shortages.

The South East Kelowna Irrigation District is at a stage two water conservation level already, it was noted, and others are expected to follow.

Warwick-Sears warned council water shortages and drought management is something local governments are going to need to look at on their own as well as in conjunction with other municipalities within the water basin.

“The province has set up a template for water utilities to develop tits own drought response plan, but what we would like to see is some kind of mechanism to link those plans together,” she said.

The OBW would also like to see the entire issue considered in conjunction with environmental issues.

With this kind of integrated and thorough planning, the Okanagan doesn’t have to become a problem territory.

“I think we’re seen as a model throughout British Columbia,” she said. “I think we’re a model for an area most at risk, but also we’re being seen as a model for an area with the potential for incredible innovation.”