New water licences issued on fully-allocated reservoirs
Although the Beaver Lake (Swalwell Lake) reservoir system was deemed fully allocated by the province’s water management branch in 1931, it has still issued a further 500 or so licences on the system since then, including 14 this summer.
The recent decision by the province to issue more licenses led to an appeal by the District of Lake Country, and a hearing was held last week by an environmental appeal panel, with hydrologist Don Dobson of Urban Systems representing the district.
Dobson said the panel’s decision might take a couple of months, but he’s not overly hopeful it will be successful after a similar appeal made by the South East Kelowna Irrigation District was denied earlier this year.
In that case recreational lot lessees on Browne Lake, one of SEKID’s reservoir lakes, were successful in obtaining domestic water licences even though that system of reservoirs is deemed to be fully allocated, so SEKID appealed.
That appeal was denied, although some changes to the existing conditions of the licences were required.
Dobson, who worked in water management for the province in the early 1980s and is still doing hydrologic work in the Okanagan, said the issue is that the province is issuing water licences on water that’s already licensed. “That’s double licensing,” he says.
“Those reservoirs exist because the ratepayers built the system and pay to maintain it, including paying for the capital costs of the infrastructure, yet these people pay for none of that and they get to use it,” Dobson explained.
“It’s about fairness and equity,” he added.
He said there’s more demand than there is water in the system, and he does not feel the 14 lessees on Beaver and Crooked Lakes who received water licences this summer should have been issued those licences.
There are some 80 leased recreational lots in that watershed and 12 of them now have water licences.
Several of the lease-holders said they only applied for the licence because the province encouraged them to, said Dobson. They said they’d been drawing water from the reservoir for 20 years or so and they intended to continue no matter what.
At last week’s hearing the panel agreed to hear a submission from Okanagan Indian Band chief Byron Louis and Dobson said he objected that the band had not been notified about the licenses.
He told the panel the process the government uses to allocate licences is broken because the system is over-allocated yet the province is still issuing more licences.
Major problems with fish in the creek downstream have resulted from the low water conditions, he noted.
Dobson said the provincial water manager claimed there was unused recorded water every year in the system so that could be used by others.
However, Dobson said that is just carryover in case of a drought.
He noted that the amount of water being requested is not large, but in principle no more licences should be issued if the system is already fully-licenced.