Cross-border water flows should not be a requirement

A group of UBCO senior undergrads are critical of a series of scientific reports written for the International Joint Commission on the conditions being proposed for a renewal of operating orders for the cross-border Osoyoos Lake.

The students, enrolled in the Freshwater Resources Issues and Management course led by Professor Bernie Bauer, who is also chair of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council, reviewed the eight studies commissioned to provide data on issues surrounding the upcoming renewal of the Order of Approval government operations of the Zosel Dam on the Okanogan River in the U.S.

Although just a few kilometres south of the Canadian border, the dam impacts the level of Osoyoos Lake in Canada, so international cooperation is important to its operation. It is governed by the IJC, with three members each from the U.S. and Canada, under the provisions of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, but a local Osoyoos Lake Board of Control operates under the IJC, also made up of three Americans and three Canadians.

The term of the current orders expires next February, and the IJC is currently accepting comment from the public, so the students will make recommendations to the board of control based on their research.

Their main concern about the studies were regarding two written by U.S. scientists, both of which brought up the issue of basing the orders on flows rather than lake levels.

That would mean Canadian water users in the Okanagan Basin would be required sometimes to use less water in order to maintain a specified flow of water across the border.

When Bauer presented his students’ report at last week’s OWSC meeting, he noted, “There is no legal precedent for flow-based criteria.”

While agreeing it is important that both countries maintain flows in the Okanagan and Columbia systems that would sustain sockeye salmon, runs which have recently been restored back into the Okanagan River and even up to Skaha Lake, Bauer said writing flow requirements into the operating orders is a different matter.

Hydrologist Don Dobson noted that there are other options for maintaining flows in the river south of the border, including augmenting flows using an old irrigation canal that could carry water from the Similkameen River to the Okanagan River, just south of Osoyoos Lake.

Fellow council member Brian Guy, a hydrogeologist, noted there’s interest on both sides of the border in maintaining adequate flows for conservation.

He said in Washington State, irrigation water can be shut off of water supplies run low.

“We wouldn’t want to be in a position of having to cut off water here,” he commented.

However, there’s tremendous concern in the U.S. agriculture community about adequate water, he said.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board, to which the OWSC makes recommendations, has already written to the IJC asking that flows not be included in the new operating orders, which currently just address the lake level.


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