Water Day: Water is fish habitat too

Rick Simpson is a chair of the Okanagan Region, B.C. Wildlife Federation
Rick Simpson is a chair of the Okanagan Region, B.C. Wildlife Federation's fisheries committee.
— image credit: judie Steeves/Capital News

Although he’s only lived in the Okanagan for the past decade, Rick Simpson says his move to the valley was an immediate eye-opener into how scarce water is here, and how important it is that we cherish the resource.

“The myth of abundance becomes clear,” he says.

With experience in restoration of fish habitat in other jurisdictions, he immediately became interested and involved in such issues here, and today he is co-chair of the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Okanagan Region fisheries committee.

He notes that all the valley’s water is already managed, mostly for domestic and agricultural uses.

He warns that we must consider not only the quantity and quality of water available in the Okanagan for human consumption, recreational and agricultural use, but also as habitat, for fish.

“It’s not just for roaring our boats around on; for drinking and for watering lawns,” comments Simpson. “We need to understand that water is also fish habitat.”

“Those that live in it might notice if our wastewater treatment doesn’t work right. Fish are our canaries in the coal mine. Fish kills tell us something about their habitat,” he comments.

“Oxygen-loving, cold-water loving fish with high metabolic rates are warning us about low flows in streams because they need adequate flows at the right time of year,” he adds. Both quality and quantity is of concern.

“If we had the equivalent of a ‘fish kill’ but with people—a health event that kills people or makes them sick—we wouldn’t hesitate to act quickly to fix the problem,” he notes.

“Too bad fish aren’t afforded the same courtesy and level of concern.”

He’s concerned about how slow it’s taking to revise the province’s water act and to get an integrated water management plan in place for the Okanagan.

Then, he notes, we have to support that with enforcement and compliance monitoring.

Yet, instead, budgets for fish are diminishing and there’s been a deliberate ‘enfeeblement of fish protection legislation,” he charges.



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