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Okanagan Basin Water Board supportive of new national water agency

Funding in place; awaiting specific policy mandate

A major shift in water management policy on a national level is being greeted with cautious optimism by water management officials.

The unveiling of the new Canada Water Agency (CWA), to be headquartered in Winnipeg, was revealed with the federal budget release last week.

The 2023-24 budget proposes to provide $85.1 million over five years, with $21 million ongoing thereafter to support the creation of the agency.

By the end of this year, the federal government will release legislation that will fully establish the Canada Water Agency as a standalone entity.

“This announcement has been a long time coming, and people in the water field are looking forward to the new agency with cautious optimism,” said Okanagan Basin Water Board executive director Anna Warwick Sears in a staff update.

In February 2021, Warwick Sears submitted a presentation on behalf of the water board advocating for the creation of a water management agency.

In her submission, Warwick Sears identified how strong federal leadership in water management is currently lacking in Canada, with a national water agency being the vehicle that could provide that leadership, while at the same time giving recognition and respect that water issues should be identified and addressed on a regional basis.

“Canada is a large and diverse country, and water issues and priorities vary across the country,” stated Warwick Sears.

Specific to the Okanagan, Warwick Sears suggested the CWA could significantly expand hydrometric networks that measure stream flow and lake level, a monitoring system that has shrunk considerably over the past 40 years.

She also cited a need for network expansion to monitor weather data, groundwater levels, snow depth and density, and lake and stream water quality.

Also noted was a CWA role to support or lead water-related science and modelling in the Okanagan for hydrologic and hydraulic modelling, seasonal lake inflow, water supply and demand studies, drought and flood planning, groundwater aquifer research, aquatic ecosystem health research and modelling, and communication of information to decision-makers and the public.

While the federal government is still determining precisely what the new agency will do, one Winnipeg-based environmental organization expects it to become a one-stop shop for water science, water quality assessment and water management.

“This is something that we don’t actually have in this country at the moment,” said Matt McCandless, a vice president for the non-profit International Institute for Sustainable Development in an interview with CBC.

Right now, municipalities, provinces and Indigenous authorities take different approaches to manage water quality, water science, flooding and droughts, said McCandless, adding a national water agency could provide more coordination.

READ MORE: National water management agency a long-term dream

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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