After the Okanagan was hit by destructive floods in recent years, there are calls for a major review of the way the province manages water in the region.
While some study is underway, the Okanagan Basin Water Board is looking for a broader provincial commitment to reviewing the water system in light of climate change.
The water board, along with several Okanagan municipalities and regional districts, is calling on the province to support a full review of the way the province manages Okanagan Lake levels and the provincial water control infrastructure throughout the region.
“The way the dams were put in and the way that they are operated was designed for a climate regime that we are no longer experiencing,” said water board executive director Anna Warwick Sears.
“Our risk of flooding is increasing each year.”
Because changes to prevent flooding could have impacts on other things including drought and fish stocks, the water board said study is needed before changes are made.
But Warwick Sears said that research will take time so it’s important that the work moves ahead quickly.
“It takes a long time to review the engineering of a dam, it takes a long time to understand the implications of different operating plans. We don’t want to be in the middle of a flood when everybody is doing flood response and say, ‘How should we do things?'” Warwick Sears said.
The monthly targets for the level of Okanagan Lake that the province is aiming for were set decades ago.
Those targets are based on the expected inflows in the Okanagan Lake, but with climate change, the water board believes those targets now need another look.
“It is not working how it is going right now. Nobody is happy with it,” said Warwick Sears.
“Our letter to the province was not to point fingers and say, ‘People are doing things wrong.’ If we are pointing fingers, we are pointing at the lake, we are pointing at the snowpack, pointing at the weather and saying, ‘We know the direction things are going in and we have to make these changes now.'”
Shaun Reimer, who works for the province to manage water levels in the Okanagan Lake water system, said he shares the water board’s concerns.
Reimer said the provincial government is aware of the need to adapt the system and is working with the water board to determine what studies will be needed to make decisions about adapting the water system.
“We are at the initial stages but my program has always been working towards getting a better understanding of our inflows and trying to deal with the kind of impacts we are seeing from the higher water levels in the last eight, nine years,” Riemer said.
What the water board is looking for is a commitment from the province to fund and support any recommended studies that come out of the current review.
The province said it will need to see what those recommendations are before it makes any commitments.
Many Okanagan lakes from Kalamalka Lake near Vernon to Osoyoos Lake on the U.S. border are interconnected and managed by the province through an infrastructure system called the Okanagan Lake Regulation System.