The Duteau Creek storage reservoir provides 60 per cent of the water that services the Greater Vernon area, according to the Regional District of North Okanagan. (Contributed)

Vernon mayor pushes for water sustainability action now

Victor Cumming says adoption of existing study data only requires political willpower

The time is up for more studies on how to better protect water quality and sustainability in the North Okanagan watershed, says Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming.

“We already know the basic actions that have to be done,” said Cumming.

He said the “urgency and magnitude” of the issue will only become greater a decade from now, particularly as the impact of climate change continues to become more prevalent across the Okanagan Valley.

Cumming made the comments at the annual general meeting for the Okanagan Basin Water Board, following a presentation by Ted Zimmerman, executive director of the provincial water protection and sustainability branch.

Zimmerman is heading up the development of the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund, a provincial initiative to help synthesize water management along with health and land use directives under one strategy and provide the funding to meet those goals.

Cumming said as a water purveyor, the City of Vernon has been caught up in conflicts with forestry land-use decisions on the Aberdeen Plateau, where the Duteau Creek water intake supplies 60 per cent of the water services for the area.

READ MORE: Tolko walks back plans for cutblock

A nearby cutblock was to be harvested by Tolko raising concerns with the city, but last week an agreement was reached to not allow any harvesting or road construction in the area of concern, which comes within 500 metres of the Duteau Creek water intake.

“My suggestion is we don’t have to study this for two or three years along parallel land use lines. We know what can happen in the short-term and we have to get to work on protecting these streams immediately… not wait until a catastrophic forest fire occurs in our watershed,” Cumming said.

“There is no use sitting here waiting for new legislation to come forward that might be two or three years out yet when we know now what needs to be done.”

Zimmerman responded that he valued the feedback from Cumming and other municipal and water management use officials at this stage of the strategy consultation process, noting the real impact of climate change, already felt in the Okanagan over the last five years, which will help expedite the legislation process.

“We are no longer talking about climate change in conceptual terms,” he said.

Lake Country Mayor Jim Baker also participated in the OBWB annual general meeting forum, citing his district’s concerns about not limiting land access or licensing to reservoir foreshore property.

At one point, fishing and hunting along with summer cabin licensing was allowed on reservoir property, but the former Liberal provincial government opened that door more by opening up applications for cabin lease property agreements and property acquisition.

“That was eventually taken off the table because of hard lobbying by local governments, but because it was seen as a source of revenue, it has not completely gone away… we sure don’t want to see those areas sold off,” Baker said.

Another concern is mudboggers ripping up reservoir foreshore land and near upshore dams when water levels recede.

Zimmerman acknowledged recreation land use values are part of the discussion in coming up with a water sustainability strategy.

“Your points are noted and we will look in that,” he told Baker.

READ MORE: Tolko walks back plans for cutblock above Greater Vernon water source

READ MORE: Vernon police didn’t use excessive force in domestic takedown: Watchdog


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