Each of the Okanagan’s 101 water supply districts is different, depending on their sources of water supply, their reservoir storage, and their location in the valley.
These differences make some suppliers more vulnerable if dry periods occur with greater frequency.
To reduce the risk of water shortages, water managers have a range of options from increasing reservoir storage to reducing water demands through conservation and improved efficiency.
Many of these improvements will require additional investment, although in general, reducing demand is much more cost effective than expanding storage.
The models produced through this project will provide new tools to help water managers optimize their systems. Development of drought response plans by each water supplier will reduce the impacts of water shortages on residents, farms and businesses.
Why don’t we just build more storage?
Most of the best storage locations are in use. Historically storage in Okanagan Lake (the Okanagan’s largest “reservoir) has taken place by managing lake levels within bounds set by the 1974 Okanagan Basin Study. Drawing the lake lower than these bounds is believed to increase risk of lake levels not recovering should the winter have less precipitation than normal; Raising the lake higher than these bounds risks flooding in low-lying areas. Some upland reservoirs can be expanded or improved, but costs are high.
How much water is available for licensing?
This decision depends on how much risk we are willing to bear with respect to water shortages, and the location of the water source. The project also compares the amount licensed to the amount that is actually used by those licensees.
Why is there a problem if we have more licence capacity than we use?
For agriculture, large licences create a buffer for when there are dry conditions. For municipalities, large licences allow “room” for future development. But we don’t always have the water to “prove out” the licences, especially for water utilities that depend on upland reservoirs. Many water suppliers also have to release substantial flows for fish and ecosystem flows.