The Okanagan Fisheries Foundation is advocating for the preservation of the Mission Creek watershed in light of the City of Kelowna’s desire to adopt the iconic waterway as a primary domestic water source.
A petition started by the foundation to oppose the Kelowna’s new water plan has generated some 500 signatures and is beginning to gain more attention, says foundation director Mat Hanson.
“I think the petition interest is a reaction to public sentiment…more and more people are becoming extremely troubled by the (water plan) proposal,” said Hanson, a local fishing charter operator originally from Australia who started the foundation.
The strategy Hanson is concerned about is called the Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan, developed by consultants to reorganize the city’s domestic and agriculture water management from the current various irrigation districts to city hall control.
A key aspect of that plan called for Mission Creek to be used as a domestic water source, a cheaper option than constantly pumping water to all city users from Okanagan Lake.
But for Hanson, preserving Mission Creek’s educational, cultural and recreational value to the community should take precedence over potential domestic water supply cost savings.
“We already have a lake that is 135 kilometres long and over 700 feet at its deepest point as a water source, and you want to change that to an already over-allocated creek supporting a fragile ecosystem. That doesn’t make sense,” Hanson said.
He is worried that further drawing of water from the creek will irreparably damage its sustainability as a kokanee spawning ground, and negate all the work already done to restore the creek greenway’s ecosystem habitat.
“It is contradictory for the city to receive an award for its efforts to save the Mission Creek ecosystem and save the watershed, and then turn around and potentially drain it,” Hanson said.
Mayor Colin Basran said he has talked with Hanson and others about concerns relating to Mission Creek under the proposed water plan, but he cautions that more research study will be needed to assess the potential impact along with increased water reservoir capacity before any policy moves forward.
“This is not something we’ve drawn up on the back of a napkin and now it will be implemented,” said Basran about the water supply plan.
“There will be a number of consultations that will have to take place, including with ministries at both levels of government as there are laws in place to regulate withdrawing water from creeks and rivers to ensure the health of those waterways for environmental reasons.”
John Janmaat, an associate professor of economics at UBC Okanagan and frequent blogger on regional water issues, said the impact research for drawing up to 75 per cent of the city’s daily domestic water use from Mission Creek doesn’t exist.
He said using gravity to draw water rather than a pumping system makes sense from a financial perspective, but the question remains at what potential cost to the environment.
“I would like to see some good research done on this to show Mission Creek has the water for this without compromising other things we value…the Mission Greenway is one of the treasures of our city,” Janmaat said.
“I hope we will do the work required to understand the potential impact of drawing more water out of Mission Creek and the compromise decisions that might be made, rather than going ahead with it and later discovering impacts are taking place we really don’t like.”
Janmaat said public pressure and awareness are two key ingredients to ensuring the research work his done.
“I always tell my students that politics trumps everything,” he said.
Phase one of the plan is about to get underway, to incorporate South East Kelowna Irrigation District water users into the city’s water distribution system.
The federal and provincial governments have approved the City of Kelowna funding application for the water connection upgrades to integrate the two systems, adding more than 80 kilometres of new waterlines to create separate systems for domestic and agriculture use.
Basran said those improvements are being made with the future potential to provide both water from the lake and Mission Creek adding it is in the city’s long-term interest to ensure the domestic water supply system is not tied entirely to Okanagan Lake.
“If something was to happen to the lake as our only primary water source, we have no backup,” he said.
Hanson believes access to Mission Creek water will be limited due to water turbidity issues in the spring, the reduced water flow during the summer, fish spawning concerns in the fall and the overall impact of both a growing population coupled with climate change.
“City council has a civic responsibility to provide safe and clean drinking water at a reasonable cost, but council also has a civic duty to protect our natural resources and utilize them with environmentally sound thinking,” he said.
“This plan is anything but that.”