We really are our own worst enemies.
We log a little too close to a creek, mine gravel beside creeks or drive our bikes or ATVs through creeks, then come home and turn on the tap to find the glass of water looks like weak coffee—or worse.
The fact is, the same hills around the Okanagan Valley where we work and play supply our drinking water.
It’s actually pretty simple. By removing that protective cover of plant life, whether with our tires or a larger piece of equipment, we leave the soil underneath vulnerable to erosion into the nearest waterway.
Generally, that body of water then carries the sediment, petrochemicals, both animal and human wastes, organic matter and other bacteria into the nearest domestic water intake. If runoff simply rolls off the top of the trees, bushes, plants and grasses, instead of picking up bared soils, there’s less chance that contaminants of concern will be included in what enters the intakes of local water utilities.
Part of the Okanagan’s allure for outdoors people is the multi-use watersheds that surround the valley, yet providing those same enthusiasts with safe drinking water may be more expensive than otherwise, because of our love of the outdoors.
There were some shocking numbers released in the past week or so showing what it’s going to cost us to ensure our drinking water is safe.
However the biggest figure is only necessary if we don’t do all we can to protect our local watersheds. The Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan warns us it will cost us $40 million to bring all five water utilities in the city to what’s called Phase 3, which would meet the minimum standards set by Interior Health, addressing all the microbiologic issues.
However, the cost to complete all eight phases is $361 million.
We may be able to avoid the last five stages if we clean up our act in our watersheds and treat them more like the domestic water repositories they are, instead of simply an industrial site or a playground. I mean, it just makes common sense.
To make it work, we have to cooperate and we all have to take responsibility for our own actions and then some for the other guy as well.
Cooperation between all levels of government is just as important as between people and groups of people.
For instance, if a local government says an area is not suitable for a gravel mining operation, the provincial government needs to pay some attention instead of going ahead with it anyway.
The mining, cattle and forest industries must be responsible caretakers of the land that sustains the resources they covet.
Individually, we must become more aware of the impacts of our actions when we enjoy the wilderness around us, because it’s also someone’s watershed. Otherwise, we will end up paying.
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.