Mara Lake is one of the significant water resources across the Okanagan-Shuswap region that will fall under increasing sustainability pressure as the anticipated population growth for the region continues in this century. (File photo)

Mara Lake is one of the significant water resources across the Okanagan-Shuswap region that will fall under increasing sustainability pressure as the anticipated population growth for the region continues in this century. (File photo)

Okanagan Valley water supply sustainability reaching a critical point: Global expert

Global expert says Okanagan Basin Water Board offers sustainable path forward

For all the public health havoc created by the COVID-19, a leading global water management expert says the pandemic could also offer a pathway to generate environmental and economic sustainability for the next 50 years.

Bob Sandford, Global Water Futures Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, noted a change this year in the Earth’s resource capacity to sustain the world population.

Beginning around 1970, Sandford said a shift began to occur as the Earth’s resources could not provide a growing world population’s needs on a sustainable annual basis.

Through the last decade that shift exaggerated, reaching a breaking point in October in 2013 and Aug. 2 two years ago. But last year, Sandford said the shift swung in the opposite direction, extending a further three weeks to Aug. 22.

Bob Sandford

That sudden change, he said, was because COVID induced a change for the worse in our economy, revealing our collective impact on environmental sustainability, but also illustrating it’s not too late to make a difference in saving our planet through better management of our water supply and biological ecosystem that sustains life on our planet.

“And we have seen a 9.3 per cent reduction in our human ecological footprint since January 1 compared to the same period last year, one of the consequences of the coronavirus economic lockdowns,” he said.

Sandford shared his thoughts about creating a sustainable water management policy for Canada, and in particular the Okanagan Water Basin, in a Zoom presentation sponsored by the water board last Wednesday (Oct. 21).

Sandford was joined in the presentation by Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Water Basin Board (OBWB), and took questions from viewers to the presentation, the first of an online public speaker series to help celebrate the OBWB’s 50th anniversary.

“I have observed the Okanagan for a long time and you are on your way to developing an enlightened 21st-century water policy,” he said.

“It is still very much within your grasp, you are still in that sweet spot of not being divided by the social, political or ideological viral pathologies that have affected the U.S.

“Addressing climate change has not yet gotten away on you like it has in other countries like Australia and the U.S.

“You can still create you want for a sustainable future but you have to do it now. One of your flaws is the lack of urgency.

Besides extreme climate events, Sandford said globally the impact of climate change has become recognizable, and influential, in current population migration patterns.

He said the migration alarms are already going off, particularly in the U.S., where environmental damage is causing people to look elsewhere, leaving areas such as south Florida, California, parts of the mid-West and the Carolinas for a more habitable and sustainable lifestyle.

And the underlying key to that movement is a sustainable water supply.

“Where are those people going to go? There is a general pattern of people moving northward, and many will want to come to Canada. They are coming so get ready,” he said.

Sanford said population density challenges arise when ecosystems are not protected, and freshwater management remains a key component of any such strategy.

He noted the divisiveness and bitter public discourse in the U.S. have not yet infected Canada, saying our country is a generation behind potentially falling into that same trap.

“And there is no better example of people, of divergent interests, working together than right here in the Okanagan.”

A video of Sandford’s presentation can be viewed online at https://youtu.be/MT1XfVHy02k.

READ MORE: Okanagan water suppliers face drought

READ MORE: Kelowna adapts to larger watershed management role

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