Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff (right) will serve another term as chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board this year, as will vice-chair Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin. (File photo)

Water briefs: Osoyoos mayor to head up Okanagan Basin Water Board

Sue McKortoff to serve fourth term as OBWB chair

The mayor of Osoyoos will serve a fourth term as chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

Sue McKortoff was acclaimed by her fellow board members at the OBWB board meeting Tuesday (Feb. 1).

Also returning for another term is vice-chair Cindy Fortin, the mayor of Peachland.

McKortoff has called the OBWB a “one of a kind” water management advisory board in Canada, citing its progressive initiatives for addressing climate change weather impacts, pushing for better invasive mussels policies to protect regional waterways and to enhance and promote local water use education programs.

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Efforts are continuing to give the Okanagan Nation Alliance a voting presence on the water board.

Currently, the ONA has a seat at the water board table but not a voting authority.

In her report to the board, OBWB Anna Warwick Sears said there are no obstacles posed by the province regarding the ONA representative voting powers, that the lone restriction relates to regional district bylaws dating back to 2005.

Those bylaws enabled the water board to add three new members – representing the ONA, the water stewardship council and the Water Supply Association of BC – but limited voting powers.

Warwick Sears is working to have the three regional district boards that encompass the Okanagan Valley watershed to amend the voting restriction impacting the ONA.

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Cool and wet is the weather outlook for the watershed through this spring, which is expected to help local lakes recover from the drought conditions of last summer.

But Warwick Sears cautions in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to predict weather conditions, blamed on the extreme swings imposed by climate change.

The snow monitor stations show snow levels at near-normal levels of 93 per cent as of mid-January.

While it seems like we’ve received a lot of snow this year at the valley bottom, alpine levels often don’t reflect the same snow accumulation, which helps temper flooding concerns in the spring.

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The objective of the OBWB’s Okanagan Basin Hydrometric Information Network is to develop and manage a data collection network for the valley.

In parallel with the hydrometric information work that is underway, updated Environmental Flow Needs (EFN) reports are being developed by Okanagan Nation Alliance staff.

The Equesis monitoring stream is the first system to be updated, providing assessments for fish such as sockeye and chinook salmon now entering the Okanagan from the Columbia River and other valley creeks and streams to spawn.

One of the original proponents for enhancing the data collection systems was water engineer Don Dobson, who passed away in December.

“His contributions to Okanagan water knowledge were significant,” stated an OBWB water stewardship council staff report.

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Based on the feedback from dealing with the 2021 summer drought, the Thompson Okanagan Regional Drought Response Team faces some challenges moving forward.

In a staff report to the OBWB, the multi-watershed spatial extent of the 2021 drought was overwhelming for the team, which historically was more used to facing localized drought conditions.

“Climate change projections are for more frequent, widespread droughts, so the team must remain committed to improving our response and collaboration,” stated the report.

“Coinciding wildfires and drought competed for resources that were overstretched due to COVID-19. Water officers and staff were reassigned to fire activities, resulting in a lack of expertise for some teams.

“A plan to extend capacity during multiple crises needs to be prepared.”

The report also acknowledged the need to better provide timely public messaging conveyed by the media.

“Differences in federal (Agriculture Canada), provincial and local drought ratings created confusion and reduced public confidence.”

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