KELOWNA - Mayor Colin Basran says Kelowna is starting its “Journey Home for water” with the launch of a new plan for managing the flow of water in the city and beyond.
Journey Home started as a City of Kelowna task force on homelessness that, last year, produced a report that is seen as a model for other communities and has taken on a life of its own by turning into an independent non-profit society to carry out its recommendations.
“I like the fact that we’re doing this (water study) and I see this as similar to the Journey Home process where we’re bringing everybody to the table and then being the model for other areas of the province and for the country on how we come to solutions and all work together,” Basran said today, Jan. 7, following a presentation by two city engineers.
“Then we will be able to advocate for solutions that work for us as opposed to somebody else coming down to us and saying this is how it should be and we find out it isn’t Kelowna or Okanagan or watershed appropriate for us,” he continued. “This is one particular incidence where I think we have to be the leader here.”
City Council was told that, given recent changes in the city's water utility, staff have to look at different ways of dealing with all sorts of water issues. This is the start of a study on how best to deal with everything from drinking water to flood control. An update is expected in April. There is no budget set for the work for this year.
Up until last year, the City of Kelowna’s drinking water came from Okanagan Lake but only served part of the city.
Four large irrigation districts and about 20 smaller suppliers provided water for the rest of the city. Some of those took their water from creeks fed by upper elevation reservoirs.
Last year, the city took over the South East Kelowna Irrigation District and is in the process of separating drinking water (which will come from Okanagan Lake) and agriculture water (which comes from the Hydraulic Creek watershed).
Since some its water now comes from outside the city, staff have to work with other levels of government to make sure drinking water supplies are adequate and of good quality.
Plus, after two successive years of flooding, there is growing concern about reducing the risk of future damage from excessive runoff. There is also a need to make sure there is enough water to cope with drought years.
While the province has control over the watersheds, Utility Planning Manager Rod MacLean and Senior Manager for Infrastructure Ron Westlake have started working with the regional district and the Okanagan Basin Water Board to find the best ways to manage water for drinking, containing runoff and dealing with sewage that, after treatment, goes into Okanagan Lake – which is where most of Kelowna’s drinking water is drawn from.
While the focus right now is on determining who to talk to and how to collect data in the most cost-effective manner without duplicating efforts of other jurisdictions, there are some big challenges ahead.
“If we’re forcing density into the valley bottom, are we also putting development in areas we have to manage differently?” Coun. Gail Given asked. “Do we have to design buildings differently so they can withstand lake levels that are coming up? Do we develop our parks so they are flood parks - not like city park where we put our electrical underground for the (children’s) water park and that didn’t work very well. We don’t want to spread up the hillsides, but we’re putting our populations in harm’s way, potentially.”
MacLean noted that housing is largely strung along a relatively narrow strip by Okanagan Lake and “we have to punch holes in it. We have to make sure we’re not putting any thing in harm’s way any more than we have to.”
He said the days of having straight streams flushing water quickly through the city are over.
Mission Creek is an example of a creek that used to meander through the city before being contained by dikes. It now has one stretch where an oxbow side channel has been created but there needs to be more of that type of work, Given noted.
“Does there get to be a point where the density of motor boats on the lake has an impact?” Coun. Luke Stack asked. “There are other ways to use the lake recreationally without power motorboats and there are other ways to power boats.”
“Boating density is pretty difficult because they’re coming in at every different point,” Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board replied. “It’s certainly something that is considered in any water source protection plan. But, I don’t think anyone has got to the point where they‘ve figured out how to tackle the boat density issue. There are some jurisdictions that want as many boats as possible.”
She said a boating density study was done by the regional district eight or 10 years ago but it was too controversial for any action to be taken.
Another key aspect of the discussion is the city’s desire to interconnect all the water delivery systems – a move that has been strongly resisted by the three remaining major water suppliers. Westlake said that is a discussion to have further down the road.
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