Okanagan Basin Water Board chair Sue McKortoff (left) receives congratalatory certificate from Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray. Gray was back in Ottawa so the certificate was presented to McKortoff by her assistant Gina Lang. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

Okanagan water boards marks 50th anniversary

Okanagan watershed ties to water bringing communities together

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming is an example of how water management continues to be a unifying characteristic for all communities across the Okanagan watershed.

Cumming recalls as a 14-year-old growing up in Naramata when his father dragged him out to a community meeting in Vernon — a private citizens’ initiative to discuss the formation of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

“The citizenship and the planning lessons I learned from that experience have stuck with me to today,” said Cumming,

“I saw how the issues around water drew people together from across the valley, and how enthusiastic folks were just to get together and meet about a shared passion.

“My father has since passed but the visions and dreams he had back then are still alive today.”

Cumming was one of the guest speakers at a ceremony held Thursday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Okanagan Basin Water Board. The celebration was held at Bertram Creek Regional Park in Kelowna.

Cumming reflected on how the valley population has skyrocketed in the past 50 years — “When I went to that meeting in 1968 the Westside looked nothing like it does today” — and without it has come ongoing challenges to preserve the valley’s water supply.

“At the core of all that development has always been water,” he said.

Just like his father did for him 50 years ago, he passed on a message about water management to the current water board and administrative staff: “Don’t be shy. Be bold. What you do today will have a real impact on the future.”

Tom Siddon, founding chair of the water stewardship council advisory group for the OBWB 15 years ago, said protection of the watershed’s water supply has reached a new threshold.

“This is a time of new resolution and serious determination to resolve the climate change issue,” said Siddon, a retired MP who now resides in Penticton.

He said key issues of flooding and wildfires continue to get worse and require imaginative solutions that the OBWB are well equipped to help formulate and promote.

“People are moving here from all over the world and I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t,” Siddon said of the population growth pressure the Okanagan Valley will be called upon to sustain for years to come.

Bernie Bauer, a UBC Okanagan professor of earth, environmental and geographic sciences, recalled an effort years ago to develop a strategy to improve the Okanagan region’s economic competitiveness.

“We broke up into sub-groups and discussed different issues, but what we all began to realize is the topic that kept coming up was water,” said Bauer, a long-time water stewardship council member.

“And since then water has been a nexus of passion that keeps us all coming back to (the water stewardship council) table.”

Many of the speakers also noted the contribution of Anna Warwick Sears, the executive director of the OBWB since 2007, for elevating the water board into an advocacy, research and policy conduit to help institute groundbreaking changes in policy and attitude towards water management.

Prior to her arrival, the OBWB was mainly known for milfoil harvesting and administering sewer infrastructure grants.

Under Warwick’s stewardship, the water board has evolved into overseeing water management programs, flood control initiatives, impact of climate change on our valley environment and aggressively campaign for stricter invasive mussel inspection controls to protect local lakes from an infestation.

Presented a flower bouquet, Warwick Sears acknowledged the support of the board and her staff embracing a positive philosophy of “why not instead of why we can’t do something.”

Water

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