Water Quality Improvement

In the 1960s, the Okanagan had water pollution problems – poorly treated sewage effluent released into the lake, runoff from cattle yards, and organo-phosphate/lead-arsenate insecticides were creating algae blooms and toxic conditions. Water pollution was a driving factor for establishing the OBWB, and its first major success.

With the OBWB in place, bolstered by the Okanagan Basin Study, the Okanagan earned a special regulation in the provincial sewage regulations, requiring tighter controls on wastewater treatment and release to the lakes. The OBWB then established the “Sewage Facilities Grants” program, matching federal dollars to help local communities pay for upgrades. Within 20 years, the level of phosphates in the lakes dropped by more than 90%.

While sewage infrastructure upgrades have taken care of the worst problems, water quality issues go on – especially in wet years.

Each spring, freshet carries loads of sediment downstream, which causes trouble for drinking water treatment and for fish.

In the summer, there is more bacterial pollution – when warm weather multiplies pathogens introduced to streams and reservoirs by animals (birds, beavers, dogs, cattle, humans, etc…).  There is debate about the costs and responsibility for drinking water treatment.

Water quality issues can be more difficult to address than water supply, because many small pollution contributions can add up to big problems.

Collectively, “source protection” falls into three areas:

  1. upper-watersheds – around reservoir lakes and streams on crown land;
  2. agricultural areas; and
  3. developed areas, where we call it “stormwater.”

Different actions are needed for different sources of pollution.

Water quality is protected by having healthy riparian areas along streams and lakeshores, reducing sediment from logging, road building, and off-road recreation in the upper watershed (refer to OBWB Policies), and reducing the need for in-stream cattle watering on range lands. In developed areas, the focus is on reducing runoff from streets and yards, and preventing chemical spills and other hazards.

The OBWB has supported research by UBCO on emerging contaminates – pharmaceutical and personal care products that can cause hormone disruption in animals.

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