OBWB Drought Update #3

Dear Okanagan local governments and water utilities,

This email is a follow up to the emails I sent on July 16 and 17. Please let me know if you need those re-sent.  Some have been caught in Spam filters.

As of now, the Okanagan is still in a level 3 drought. According to the provincial drought response plan, this means that all “municipal, agricultural and industrial users” are asked to voluntarily reduce their use by 30% – even those utilities on storage. The province is in the process of sending out letters this week to all license holders with this information. The Okanagan is currently under review for a level 4 declaration, along with the Nicola, Kettle and the South Thompson.

Level 4 drought declarations allow the province to do mandatory cutbacks to license holders directly drawing from streams, or those on lakes who do not have storage licences.  The first licensees to experience cuts will be those with fish protection clauses on their licenses. Then the regulators move to the FITFIR system.  I’m trying to find out if the clause in the new Water Sustainability Act applies that protects water for domestic purposes.

For those who’ve not seen it, I’ve included the link to the BC drought response plan: http://www.livingwatersmart.ca/drought/docs/2010/bc_drought_response_plan_june-2010.pdf

Our drought status is based in part on the monitoring of the five gauged, un-regulated streams in the upper watershed. These streams are at low flows typically not seen until mid-August and as of today the levels are listed as “declining”. OBWB has been doing a status check for Okanagan water utilities. In general, the south is more impacted than the northern part of the basin. Several of the utilities in the Central Okanagan commented that they were accessing their storage reservoirs a full month earlier than normal. They expect that they will be providing a greater volume of water from storage this year, due to the extended irrigation season. I’ve also heard that Greater Vernon had unusually high demand early in the season.

Penticton, Peachland, and RDOS are all moving to meet the 30% voluntary reductions. I haven’t heard from others yet. I think some utilities have it under consideration, some are taking it under advisement, and some are taking it to their boards and councils. The OBWB put out a press release aimed at the public, asking people to use only what they need and directing them to the Make Water Work materials.

I was in touch today with the operator of the dam in Penticton. He said that we’re in much better shape with lake levels than 2009, but we are going into the fall with low levels and we may have problems if we have below-average precipitation.  He said “On a large lake like this, the first year of a drought is never a severe crisis. It’s the second year that we are concerned about. Where’s the rain?”  He said that any savings by water utilities that draw from the lake would be a benefit.

We are going into an El Nino, which is typically warmer and drier for the Okanagan (this is just getting started in the Pacific).

Not a lot of new news, but I’ll provide more updates as I get them.

Let’s all hope for some good rains soon to cool down the rivers and help out those sockeye.