Saturday, March 26, 2011

Water supply in western Canada faces impact from international decisions

Judie Steves in the Kelowna Capital News (British Columbia): While the shorelines are dotted with beaches and resorts for those who love the recreational opportunities, to others, the Okanagan’s lakes are less things of beauty than conduits providing life-giving water to hundreds of thousands of people and millions of other living things—in two countries.

We’re at the top end of what is an enormous watershed, all feeding the Columbia River through Washington and Oregon in the U.S., before it dumps into the Pacific Ocean at Portland. And, in a couple of years, the orders governing water levels in the cross-border Osoyoos Lake in the southern part of the valley, must be renewed by the International Joint Commission. That decision will impact everyone in the Okanagan Basin.

If the current orders requiring that the lake levels remain between elevations of 911.5 feet and 909 feet are kept, there could be little change in how the new orders impact Central Okanagan residents. …However, if changes are made to consider not only lake level but the flows, there could be water losses to upstream users, particularly during drought years, which are predicted to be more likely as climate change impacts natural flows of water. And, that’s an issue that concerns the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which wrote to both the IJC boards in Canada and the U.S. and to Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day requesting that no such change be made in the orders.

The board was responding to a report by Washington State University researchers recommending a shift in water management policy from lake levels to flow requirements. “We believe this is a substantial shift from the status quo, and, despite our ongoing studies, there is still insufficient science to inform such a change—especially considering the high level of uncertainty about water availability in any given year,” wrote board chair Stu Wells.

…Climate change impacts are not normally taken into account by the IJC in making decisions on orders for trans-boundary waters, he said. People should be informed about the possible upstream impacts of changes in orders for the watershed’s trans-border waters, he added….

Osoyoos in British Columbia, shot by David Wise, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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