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Water briefs: Juggling Okanagan Lake conflicts

Lake release halted despite high snowpack levels
Shaun Reimer at the Penticton dam regulating the water release from Okanagan Lake further south into the Okanagan Valley watershed. (OBWB photo)

The arrival of spring brings another balancing act of managing conflicting interests in adjusting the level of Okanagan Lake.

In a report to the Okanagan Basin Water Board for its April 4 meeting, executive director Anna Warwick Sears says the BC River Forecast Centre’s March 22 bi-weekly snow conditions commentary revealed the Okanagan watershed’s snowpack to be slightly above normal, 106 per cent, compared to the baseline long-term median level.

After ramping up water dam releases for Okanagan Lake at the Penticton dam, those flows have been decreased.

“Although there is still a lot of snow in the hills, Okanagan Lake had been dropping more quickly that forecast, potentially threatening kokanee-eggs/alevins,” said Warwick-Sears.

That strategy was to be re-evaluated on April 1.

Earlier in March, the Penticton-based dam manager, Shaun Reimer, had authorized lowering Okanagan Lake levels in anticipation of an elevated risk of flooding due to deeper-than-average snowpack levels.

The climate wildcard remains how much rain accumulates across the Okanagan and the spring snowmelt unfolds.


The water board has retained consultant Mark Koch, a former planner with the District of Lake Country and the City of West Kelowna, to review and assess bylaws across the Okanagan for compliance with current terms of the sewage facilities assistance grant program, in particular the one-hectare policy.

A 1974 Okanagan Basin study, identified nutrient pollution as a major cause of algal blooms and deteriorating water quality in Okanagan and Skaha lakes.

So the provincial Sewage Facilities Assistance grant program was established to subsidize construction of tertiary sewage treatment plants and collection systems in valley communities, funded by a valley-wide tax levied on all properties across the basin and administered by the OBWB.

A significant proportion of this program’s funds have gone toward community sewer projects intended to decrease water pollution coming from development with small lots, and failing or over-capacity septic systems.

To avoid repeating these costly fixes, the OBWB now requires applicants to have in place zoning policies or bylaws prohibiting new development of lots less than one hectare that is not serviced by community sewers.

Part of Koch’s assignment is to review development decisions from the past five years for those local governments which may have granted variances to the one-hectare policy, contrary to their funding agreements.

Since the beginning of the SFA program, the OBWB has distributed more than $75 million in funds for local government sewer infrastructure projects across the valley.

The outcome has been a 10x reduction in municipal phosphorus loading into the valley lakes.


The next water stewardship council meeting is Thursday, April 13, 12 to 4 p.m., at the Coast Capri Hotel.

The guest speaker will be Gwen Bridge, who will give a presentation on Indigenous governance and decision-making.

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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