Discussion Paper – Okanagan Water Management
Why do we need a coordinated approach to Okanagan
Basin water stewardship?
The natural water supply within the Okanagan Basin can only be regarded as a
renewable resource if we use water wisely on a long-term basis and control our annual
consumption within a sustainable framework.
Since the original Okanagan Basin Water Study was completed in 1974; the valley
population has tripled to almost 350,000 people. This population already exceeds the
target level of 290,000 which was recommended for the year 2020. Due to rapid growth
in recent years it is now estimated that the Okanagan Basin population will exceed
500,000 people by 2020!
Clearly, the present growth trend is unsustainable, unless major changes are made to
the way in which we manage and regulate the use of our common and life-sustaining
heritage: “the waters of the Okanagan”.
Numerous studies since 1970 have consistently recommended an integrated “valleywide”
approach to managing the Okanagan Basin water resource. The OBWB was
established by Provincial Letters Patent for this very purpose but, due to several
shortcomings in its mandate, the Water Board has never been completely effective in
Recent economic studies, and in particular the industry-driven recommendations of the
Okanagan Partnership, now point to the necessity of creating a much strengthened
Water Management Agency.
Either a new Management Council/Authority or a revised Water Board should be
mandated to exercise or at least to coordinate water resource management on a valleywide
basis. It is only a question of time before the public will demand this. The new
agency must reflect the common interests of local government (i.e., the three Regional
Districts and First Nations), the senior levels of government and the public at large.
Water: A constraint to the economy of the Okanagan
The economy of the Okanagan is limited by water availability and quality. All Okanagan
Partnership Cluster working groups identified water resources (quality and quantity) as a
significant limiting factor to a sustainable Okanagan economy. It is importance to
business and community leaders that the management of Okanagan water resources is
conducted collaboratively, utilizing a water basin approach. Some of the facts driving
the need for action include:
There are over 200 different water utilities operating in the region.
Population growth will impact the demand of regional water resources.
Global warming will influence the water supply.
Choosing a Future: There are forces at work that have made this the right time
for new thinking and action on shaping our region’s next steps in development. The
Okanagan region stands at the proverbial fork in the road where difficult choices must be
made. Very rarely does a community have the opportunity to choose its future. More
often changes take place incrementally, invisibly, and one morning residents wake up
and realize that the qualities they knew and loved are no longer there.
New Rules for Regional Performance: The genesis of this strategy comes
from a recognition among regional leaders that the Okanagan’s position within the global
economy is not an assured one and that the region must compete for its living alongside
of other regions.
Sustainability: The Okanagan has experienced rapid growth and will grow further:
now it must plan regionally for smart growth. The region’s naturally features: aridity,
limited air circulation, and rich biodiversity-limit its capacity to adapt in the future to the
impact of short-sited growth decision made today. The region’s growth, and pattern of
development, has led to rising auto pollution, water restrictions, and a loss of biodiversity.
All of these impact the region’s quality of life and eventually, its
Water Management: An Okanagan wide issue
The Okanagan region is in this together. Water use in one part of the Okanagan region
affects the entire region. It is important that we develop a regional water management
council tasked with prioritizing and focusing resources to manage the Okanagan water
There’s only one Okanagan. Everyone has to share the water. Each community’s
decisions about the valley’s land and water impact others…it’s an integrated system.