Bertram Creek Park beach on Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. (Contributed)

OBWB briefs: Survey shows rising concern for water security

Survey carried out by Real Estate Foundation of BC and UVIC POLIS Water Sustainability Project

A secure water source is the top environmental issue in the province, according to a public opinion poll released Oct. 20 by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project.

In a survey report presented to the Okanagan Basin Water Board directors at their Nov. 2 meeting, a majority of respondents, 77 per cent, want industry to pay more to restore and secure watersheds.

And 66 per cent of respondents, up from 57 per cent in the last survey done in 2018, now say they are concerned about the potential for a major water crisis in their community over the next few years.

The concerns registered highest on Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland and Southern Interior, particularly among older adults (65+).

“These trends reflect the growing consensus among both experts and the public that our water cannot be taken for granted,” said Oliver Brandes, co-director of the POLIS project.

“Without watershed security, climate impacts are worse, droughts endure, wildfires intensify, salmon die, forests fail, soil is lost, food cannot grow, local economies falter, and conflicts mounts.”

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In her report to the OBWB, executive director Anna Warwick Sears says the region is expected to have continued La Nina conditions through February 2022, bringing cooler and wetter than normal conditions, which she says should help local lakes “recover” from the drought conditions of this past summer.

“I’m not seeing significant snow accumulation on the Mission Creek or Brenda Mines snow pillows (monitoring stations),” said Warwick Sears.

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The Water Conservation and Quality Improvement grant program provides between $3,000 and $30,000 in funding to projects by local governments, improvement districts and non-profits for projects in the Okanagan basin which conserve water or improve water quality.

The call for applications to this program, which has been running since 2006, will go out in late November, with the application deadline set for Monday, Feb. 28, 4 p.m.

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Rototillers were launched into Okanagan Lake last month to carry out the milfoil control program.

Low lake levels will impact some aspects of the program this winter.

Additional crane resources were needed to launch the equipment rather than using boat launches, while also limiting milfoil de-rooting in very shallow areas, although if these areas freeze or are scoured by wave action the milfoil may also be killed off by those conditions.

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Efforts to develop and manage an adequate hydrometric information network for the Okanagan Valley is continuing with the support of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Environment and Climate Change Canada (EEC) and the OBWB project team.

Both ECC and ONA staff were busy throughout October, collecting and managing hydrometric data.

The OBWB maintains a lack of data on changing water levels in lakes and streams needs to be rectified to provide a basis for future water management decisions.

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In September, the OBWB received an additional $50,000 from the Healthy Watersheds Initiative for the Okanagan Collaborative Source Protection Project, funding provided with a request it is used for an Indigenous-led project focused on habitat restoration in the Okanagan.

With a stipulation the money be spent by Dec. 15, OBWB partnered with Okanagan Nation Alliance and Penticton Indian Band on a project to re-engage about 8,800 square metres of historical floodplain and riparian area to aid in the recovery of at-risk populations including Chinook salmon, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Screech Owl, Great Basin Spadefoot and Tiger Salamander.

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A letter from Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming to Forests, Lands and Resources Minister Katrine Conroy says abnormally low Okanagan Lake levels are causing significant issues.

Among those issues are traditional spawning beds left dry in crucial areas of the lakeshore; public access points turned into rock and mudflats; public boat launches becoming unusable and dangerous; many private docks standing a metre or more above the water level effectively making them inaccessible to watercraft; lake water intakes prone to freezing due to exposure as they approach the shoreline.

“I am writing at the direction of my council and on behalf of many Vernon and area residents who are shocked at the current lake levels,” wrote Cumming.

“Residents are watching the fall spawn largely fail…who are likely to be without water as winter sets in.”

Cumming also asked the minister for provincial short- and long-term plans for responsible lake level management.

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