Early warning needed in water-short years

July 26, 2009

Earlier warning in years when it looks like water could be in low supply, would make a huge difference to local water utilities’ ability to plan for it.

That was one of the conclusions of a day-long workshop put on Thursday by the Okanagan Basin Water Board on drought planning, and it will be the topic of a letter to the province’s premier and to local government, says Nelson Jatel, water stewardship director.

”More timely drought information, such as stream and ground water information, in addition to snowpack measurements, would really be helpful to utilities;’ commented Jatel.

Such information needs to be provided to local water suppliers by the province earlier in the year, rather than the end of July, he said.

By then, it’s too late in the peak use period for utilities to really make much of a difference in how much water is used during the season, explained Darren Schlamp, manager for engineering and development for the Glenmore Ellison Improvement District.

"With limited data and uncertainty, there’s not much that can be changed," Schlamp commented. ”More work needs to be done."

Drought management plans have to be kept up to date and fleshed out with details in order that utilities can move forward efficiently and in time to take extra measures in particularly watershort years like this one.

Such action is even more important in light of climate change impacts, and landscape changes brought about by such events as the mountain pine beetle epidemic and wildfire, he added.

The OBWB will pursue the need for trigger graphs on Okanagan Lake which would help determine early on in the year when the valley is heading into a drought year, particularly if it’s a multi-year’ drought, said Jatel.

”We don’t want to sensationalize it by using the word drought, so perhaps we should use different language to describe the different stages," he added.

However, July is too late to say that this is a year in which we have to conserve water even more than in a normal year, he said.

A science-based, basin-wide approach is needed, he noted.

”A water conservation ethic is essential. Xeriscaping is our concept of what an Okanagan landscape should look like."

Overall, he said the OBWB were gratified at the turnout of more than 100 people to the workshop, which drew senior government officials such as Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan, as well as provincial officials such as MLA John Slater.

Slater has just been appointed parliamentary secretary for Water Supply and Allocation to the environment minister, as well as mayors and councilors from around the valley.