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POULSEN: Water as a cult religion

Image Credit: Chuck Poulsen
November 05, 2015 - 8:24 AM

The story about the success of Kokanee spawning in Okanagan Lake this fall included some other interesting news: Okanagan Lake had been drawn down through the Penticton dam.

With all the near-hysterical clamour about drought and impending doom for our water supply throughout last summer, how bad can things be when operators drain water from the lake?

Short answer: Stop the panic. The lake contains much more than all the water we need, and will for a far as anyone can see into the future.

Containing 25 billion cubic metres of water, the lake is a humongous reservoir for the population of the Okanagan. Consider that the Capilano Lake, which supplies 40 per cent of the water to the Lower Mainland's 2.3 million people, contains only 75 million cubic metres of water, or just .3 per cent of Okanagan Lake.

Jason Webster, a fisheries biologist, thinks the biggest factor in the Kokanee’s resurgence has to do with a change in how Okanagan Lake is drained every year. Previously, the lake was lowered after the salmon spawned, which led to the eggs drying out when the water receded after the drawdown.

"Now they lower the lake as much as they can prior to spawning," Webster says.

Shaun Reimer, who controls the water flow at the dam, said that previous to the dam being built in the '50s, the lake was contained by a large sand bar. During some years, there was flooding and no way to control it.

The dam wasn't built to keep more water in the lake, rather to allow water out to prevent all-too-common floods.

It's also true that this dry year had created below normal levels that had to be addressed, although not alarmingly so.

Said Webster: "The lake can take a year of dry weather. If we get a freshet (large runoff) next spring, it will fill up the lake and away we go again."

The Penticton dam.
The Penticton dam.
Image Credit: Google Maps

Just has it has always ebbed and flowed, at least throughout recorded history.

An El Nino has been predicted for this winter. Higher temperatures can be forecast with a high degree of confidence, says Environment Canada meteorologist Trevor Smith. It's often mistakenly thought that the El Nino brings dry weather. Probably in California but not this far north. As of the available data from Tuesday, Smith says the Okanagan forecast is for an average amount of precipitation this winter.

Agriculture is the largest water user in the Valley at 54 per cent (surprise?), although much of it comes from sources other than the lake. 15 per cent is for indoor use, although all of that goes down the drain and back into the lake; you can pamper yourself with a long shower without feeling guilty.

The watering of lawns and gardens is 24 per cent, all of which ends up in the water table or evaporates into the sky where it eventually comes down as rain or snow.

Aside from the cost of distributing and treating water - really the only important consideration in the Okanagan - the people of the earth can't waste water.

Water doesn't disappear into outer space. The amount of water on the globe and in the air is pretty much stable over the centuries.

Kelowna City Council recently made the odd/even watering restrictions mandatory for next year, even though none of them know more than the average frog about what next year will bring.

Aside from which, there is no evidence that odd/even watering reduces water use because people just water twice as much on the days it's allowed. Repeat: No conclusive evidence - and the city's utility manager Kevin Van Vliet concedes that.

Kelowna council joined in on this wackiness anyway.

The misguided notion of this particular conservation has taken on all the tenents of a religion, led by a cult of Okanagan Lake's high priests of H2O.

Water is the deity and the gospel is pseudo-science and sacrifice. And, of course, shame and punishment for those who question the dogma as the city encourages residents to tattle on their neighbours for watering.

Perhaps the afterlife is in Tucson, Arizona, where people really do have a reason to scrimp on water.

Chuck Poulsen can be reached at

— This column was updated at 8:38 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015 to correct the spelling of the word 'tenents'.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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