Climate change is one of many issues that will place increasing pressure on water supply in the Okanagan Valley. Photo Credit: Contributed

Water prof: Okanagan residents could be in for rude awakening

UBCO professor in Kelowna says start addressing water shortage issues now

The sight of Okanagan Lake makes many valley residents complacent about our water resource.

But a UBC Okanagan professor says if we make no headway over the next 10 to 20 years to resolve our water quantity, quality and benchmark measurement issues, Okanagan residents are in for a rude awakening.

Dr. Rehan Sadiq, the associate dean of the UBCO School of Engineering, says people literally laugh at him when he raises the subject in conversation of potential water shortfalls facing the valley.

“We are complacent about it because we look out and see that big lake every day,” Sadiq said.

But that mindset has to change, as the Okanagan is a reflection of Canada, a country with more renewable water resources than most countries but facing a challenge of what to do with it.

Sadiq is advocating the need for what he calls the one water approach, something he says would start a dialogue on how all users can improve efficiency supported by technology and infrastructure advancements.

He cites the paradox that exists in Canada, where three in every 10 residents use bottled water while water management infrastructure demands continue to grow.

Speaking at the inaugural water community forum hosted by UBCO and the WaterWise program initiated by the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Sadiq said people take water for granted because it is a relatively cheap commodity. He said if the cost was higher that would change people’s attitudes towards efficiency and water conservation methods.

“It is puzzling to me to drive around on a rainy day and see people with their sprinklers on,” he said.

Sadiq has embarked on a research project with his students to delve into how to measure water use in the valley, to try developing a methodology to create a data base that can be used to measure water use performance and provide a basis for making sometimes difficult water allocation decisions.

“Right now what is important is to create a dialogue in the community on these issues,” he said.

“We need to start seeing water use in an interconnected way rather than thinking the answer is for one group to have priority over another.

“Just like corporations use bench-marking to measure improvement and growth, we need to do the same thing: Measure performance of water management.”

Sadiq said while water is defined by its very essence as life, the idea that Canada or the world has an abundance of it beyond the need to worry is false.

“There are 7.5 billion people in the world and one billion of them don’t have access to clean drinking water,” said Sadiq. “Six thousand babies die every day around the world due to disease carried in unhealthy water.”

He noted that 84 per cent of people in his native Pakistan do not have access to safe, drinking water.

“For us in Canada it is about reliability and accessibility. If you can’t measure that, you can’t manage it.”

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