Water level issues resolved for Okanagan watershed

New agreement reached regarding natural water level flows for shared U.S.-Canada water source.

Okanagan Lake water management officials are pleased with a ruling by the International Joint Commission regarding regulation of the outlows into Osoyoos Lake by the U.S.

The commission has carried out a Order of Approval process dating back to 2000 of meetings on both sides of the border regarding future management of Zosel Dam in Washington state, which can impact the water levels in Osoyoos Lake and ultimately impact the entire Okanagan watershed.

The orders for Zosel Dam related to water levels, future water supplies and water quality were set to expire in February and April of this year.

The commission ruled that the current dam orders adequately control levels in Osoyoos Lake primarily for the benefit of agriculture, tourism, municipal interests and protection. Only minor modifications were adopted  to the rule curve that sets Osoyoos Lake upper and lower target water levels for different times of the year.

“Thanks to the active participation in the process by watershed residents and input from both (Washington) and (British Columbia), the IJC was able to thoroughly vet the issues affecting both countries before revising this Order,” commission member Lyall Knott.

“As we move forward, we will continue to engage stakeholders in the watershed, and keep them advised of the reservoir operations (Zosel Dam) and water levels. Cooperation is an ongoing process.”

Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Water Basin Board headquartered in Kelowna, said the IJC ruling was good news for Okanagan watershed users.

“Most of the things we wanted to see in the order have happened,” said Warwick Sears. “No surprises, looks pretty good.”

She cited concerns about the American side being granted guaranteed water level flows to the potential detriment of the Canadian side of the border, acknowledgement of the need to protect our watershed fisheries and acknowledgement of drought issues for residents living around the lake.

She said the IJC representatives, particularly those for Canada, did a “great job of listening” to their issues.

“We contributed a lot of research and science to back up the fact about what the water issues are…and those concerns were reflected in the Order of Approval.”

The IJC was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help Canada and the U.S. prevent and resolve disputes over the waters they share. One of the IJC’s main responsibilities is to approve projects that affect the natural water levels and flows on the other side of the international boundary.

The IJC may impose conditoins on the design and operation of such projects to protect all interests that may be affected. Zosel Dam is one of 15 dams approved by the IJC in five transboundary water basins.


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