Don’t take our water for granted

March 24, 2009

Instead of water, empty plastic water bottles lapped against the edge of the concrete-lined reflecting pool in the courtyard at UBCO Tuesday.

Drummers used empty, plastic water cooler jugs to carry their solemn musical message around the campus.

On a hill adjacent, an aquamarine-coloured mask the size of a cube van, flanked by a couple of hands bigger than several humans, lent drama to the day, while chalked messages on the concrete steps wished passers-by a Happy World Water Day.

In the opening ceremony for the fourth annual World Water Week events organized by UBCO and the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Pauline Terbasket, executive-director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, said World Water Day thinking has to become part of every day.

“We must be conscious of our relationship with water,” she said, explaining that if we look back to a time when there wasn’t as much development in the valley as there is now, the stories told about our lakes and streams include some that no longer exist—because of our lack of conscious thought about water.

“I can’t imagine a day without water,” she added.

Water was at the centre of all indigenous tribes of America, including the Syilx, she said. There isn’t a religion in the world that didn’t recognize the value of water. “My mother, even at 92, prayed with water every day.”

However, she noted, in some parts of the world people are denied access to water.

A group of students, many from countries such as Gambia, Ethiopia and Ghana, spoke about honouring the women in the world who have to carry water to their homes.

It’s important to remember that millions don’t have access to water, said one, so don’t waste it, while others don’t have enough to drink.

They helped to show anyone interested how women in those countries have carried water, sometimes for long distances, balanced on their heads.

Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd pointed out that without water we wouldn’t have an agricultural economy in the valley.

Lake Country Mayor James Baker pointed out that we’re in the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, as well as that of the rest of the Okanagan Valley, so, “What we do here has an impact downstream.”

There has to be enough water for fish, too, he added.

For the first time this year, an Okanagan Water Leadership Award was created to recognize an individual or organization leading in the area of water stewardship and to raise awareness about water issues in the Okanagan.

Nelson Jatel, water stewardship director for the Okanagan Basin Water Board made the presentation to Tom Siddon, retiring chairman of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council, who has been involved in re-vamping the water governance structure in the Okanagan Valley.

Siddon was out of the country, but the award was picked up by his son Rob.

Water week events continue today with Potters without Borders, 2 to 3:30 p.m., at UBCO; a panel presentation on Shared Waters, Shared Opportunities: Canada and U.S. Relations and the Okanagan Basin at the Kelowna Yacht Club, 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday; and a poetry slam at noon Friday on the UBCO campus.

Friday evening Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, will be speaking at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, 7 p.m.

All events are free of charge.