Plan to upgrade Okanagan Lake water flow management

Province sets agenda to create new infrastructure and water flow management program

Flooding concerns would need to be addressed in any upgrade to existing Okanagan Lake regulation system infrastructure and management plan. (File photo)

The provincial government has outlined a game plan for upgrading the Okanagan Lake water regulation system infrastructure and management plan.

But no funding has been committed yet for the 18-study process to lead to the modernization of the lake management system, as the province’s report was posted to a government website last week with little fanfare.

Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, has been waiting for the report to be released for several months, calling it a guideline framework which in some aspects has already started.

“All the work we have been doing has been focusing on this big question moving forward,” said Warwick Sears, citing issues such as climate change-induced drought, flooding and conflicting water demands at the north, central and south areas of the Okanagan Valley all impacting its watershed flow management decisions.

“There are three of the 18 studies outlined already funded and if not already underway are scheduled to be done. One is an imagery project we are working on outlining the underwater contours of the Okanagan Lake foreshore. Another is flood risk mapping, and the other is bringing together a flow model of the Okanagan and Similkameen rivers as they feed into Osoyoos Lake which contributes to flooding and water shortages in the South Okanagan.”

One of the key infrastructure questions will be the future of the Penticton dam which controls Okanagan Lake water flows into the southern end of the Okanagan.

The report acknowledges the need to either replace or upgrade the dam, which currently is unable to satisfy the water flow conflicts exacerbated by climate change.

Since the water management system falls under the jurisdiction of the province, Warwick Sears says the simple idea would be for the province to fund all the studies being called for in the report, but she suspects ultimately the federal government and other grant application options will be sought out as well.

“The importance of this report now, in part, is we have something in our hands to show people when we make applications for other funding opportunities,” she said.

She said the report outlining the need for participation of all the stakeholders, in particular the Okanagan Nation Alliance, in the study process is an emphasis that was in place back in the ’70s when the initial lake water management objectives and infrastructure were put in place.

“This can’t be a top-down decision from the provincial government…and there are a lot of things that are different now from back then. The population of the valley is larger, more distributed across the valley, the sockeye salmon fishery has returned and the First Nations people had no input on the operating plan created in the ’70s,” she said.

She said there will be a lot more conversation and collaboration involved to meet the objectives set out in the provincial study.

“There is some optimism that we are moving in this direction. This is big. This is important because it is going to help everyone who lives here in the valley,” she said.

READ MORE: Funding sought for Okanagan Lake management study

READ MORE: Addressing Okanagan Lake management conflicts

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