Recharging wells the culprit in the mystery of missing water in Kelowna's Mission Creek | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Recharging wells the culprit in the mystery of missing water in Kelowna's Mission Creek

Low water flows in Mission Creek were compounded this summer by uneven withdrawals, likely from wells.
August 26, 2021 - 6:00 AM

When Bob Hrasko, general manager of Black Mountain Irrigation District, noticed massive amounts of water being unexpectedly drawn from Mission Creek, he knew it was a human problem and had to find it.

He was picturing big hoses and water pumps secretly hauled down to Mission Creek in Kelowna to steal water in the middle of the night this summer.

“That was what we were looking for,” he told iNFOnews.ca.

Because of new recording stations along the creek and a very dry spring and summer, he was closely monitoring creek flows this summer. He noticed large decreases in flows regularly every two or three days, early in the morning.

READ MORE: Mysterious case of missing Mission Creek water in Kelowna may be solved

Not finding pumps and hoses meant more detective work was needed and the source seems to be a well or wells.

Hrasko is working with the operator and trying to get the flow evened out so he prefers not to say who that is or exactly what’s happening.

But, he does confirm it has something to do with wells and how pump motors are set up.

“It’s not like they're stealing,” he said. “They weren’t aware it was having that impact and they’re correcting it. They get to take the same volume of water. It’s just operating it in a way that flattens out the flow in the creek so that we always have a stable, even flow for the fish.”

While he would not talk specifically about this operator, Hrasko explained that there are a number of wells near Mission Creek. Some are refilled by water seeping in from the creek while others are not.

“A lot of wells operate, just boom they’re on and they run at full speed,” he said. “Other wells, if you put a variable drive on the motors – so it can speed up and slow down the motors – you can start the well up and have it run at a very low or even speed then have it speed up very slowly over time and draw an even amount of water over time.”

The way this system was operating, about 4,000 cubic metres of water – enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools – would be sucked out of the creek in an hour our two until the storage areas were refilled.

In order to make the changes, the operator will have to buy equipment and that will take some time.

At this point, the flow into Mission Creek isn’t at dangerously low levels, Hrasko said. It won’t be until next summer, if it’s another dry year, that it will be important for the flow rate to be evened out.

Hrasko is working with this operator to try to get things sorted rather than having the province getting involved and possibly imposing fines. That’s why he doesn’t want to provide details that might identify the operator for fear of losing that cooperation.

He wouldn’t say if other wells and other operators may also be contributing to the problem. At this point, he doesn’t know of all the wells that may be affecting the creek flow, just the bigger ones.

It wasn’t until 2016 that the province required commercial wells to be licenced. Operators have until March 1, 2022 to comply without paying registration fees.

People using wells for domestic use only are encouraged to register those wells but won’t have to pay water fees or rentals.

Black Mountain Irrigation District releases water from its upper elevation storage reservoirs to keep enough water in Mission Creek for the trout growing there.

If it didn’t do that, the creek – which is the largest supplier of water to Okanagan Lake – would have been down to a “trickle” with a flow of 100 to 150 cubic metres a second between mid-July and Aug. 7, or about one-tenth of what actually flowed during that time.

READ MORE: Okanagan drought killing fish and exposing need for major water management change

— This story was corrected at 1:19 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021 to correct the quantity of water from litres to cubic metres.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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