The struggle for Osoyoos Lake
Jul 26, 2012 / 8:50 am
Worried Osoyoos residents packed a public hearing on the future of Osoyoos Lake, Wednesday night.
Among the concerns expressed by the about 40 people in attendance, at the Best Western Plus Sunrise Inn, were water levels, impacts on endangered plant species, erosion and flooding.
“As a user of Lake Osoyoos I see no benefit for the new lake level recommendation,” said resident Garry Ford. “I want to know who will be impacted and who will receive benefits.”
The hearing was the second held on the renewal of operating orders for the lake, which spans the border between Washington and B.C. The first, attended by about 25 people, was on Tuesday evening in Oroville, Wash.
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is holding the hearings now as current orders for the body of water are set to expire on Feb. 22, 2013.
People were urged to attend the discussions regarding the lake because it has been 25 years since an agreement was reached for it and this could be the last. Most of the IJC’s water treaty agreements along the 49th parallel are indefinite and it is possible the one adopted this time around will fall in that category.
Currently an agreement between the U.S. and Canada regulates water levels on Osoyoos Lake to protect against both drought and flooding for the benefit of agriculture, tourism, municipal interests and fisheries protection on both sides of the border.
Canadian and American commissioners for the IJC, along with Brian Symonds, director of regional operations for the BC Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, led the discussion at the Osoyoos hearing.
Symonds gave a report outlining recommendations from the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control for renewing the Osoyoos Lake orders.
The recommendations draw from the results of eight hydrologic studies commissioned by the IJC, discussions with the state of Washington and British Columbia, public comment and two Osoyoos Lake water science forums.
Key among them are to encourage the continued cooperation between British Columbia and the state of Washington to balance flow needs across the border and downstream of Zosel Dam while respecting goals for lake elevations and limits on releases that are possible from Okanagan Lake.
- Retain the Zosel Dam facility as presently constructed.
- Eliminate the drought/ non-drought designation and replace it with a single set of operational criteria that would be followed in all years.
- Limit maximum lake regulated levels to 912.5 to minimize shoreline erosion and inundation of lakeside property.
- Allow for lower lake levels in April and May to better match the current timing of the spring freshet. This will help with providing late winter fisheries flows downstream from the dam.
Ford was among the first to respond to the recommendations with his long list of concerns.
He worries he said that under the proposed 912.5 lake elevation a plant specific habitat will be lost, boat traffic will be limited under the bridge and there will be the potential for flood conditions.
“I want to know what modifications will be done in the U.S. to modify the impact on Canada,” he said.
Other speakers also urged reconsidering the proposed lake level saying they are already dealing with gardens that are under water and erosion issues.
Ivo Tyl, a professional engineer who has lived by the lake for 27 years, said he has never seen anything as complicated and not very well done as this.
“We all know the weather is changing and I have been unable to go outside of my house because of flooding,” he said. “I see all of this as being detrimental because the proposed water level does not provide a margin of safety for residents of Osoyoos.’’
Walt Hart, a city councilman in Oroville, and Stu Wells, the mayor of Osoyoos and Okanagan Basin Water Board chair, described the hearings as productive and much needed.
Hart said he understands Canadian concern because there are more recreational activities and motels on the Osoyoos side.
“In Oroville there are mostly private properties on the lake, but I still absolutely feel we are on the same page with this,” he said.
Commissioners in attendance said the planning process remains ongoing and all comments made by residents at the hearings will be taken seriously. The IJC hopes to have a final plan in place by mid-fall.
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