Last week saw warnings of floods throughout the Okanagan.
While we could look at the dramatic increase in temperature in a short amount of time as a logical reason, some of the flooding is a direct result to a chronic lack of planning for climate change resiliency and climate change adaptation.
Kelowna is home to a diverse ecosystem. The area relies heavily on its watersheds, which are critical for providing clean water, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and supporting local agriculture.
A watershed is an area of land that channels rainwater and snowmelt into rivers, lakes, and streams, eventually leading to a common outlet. They also maintain vital habitats for a diverse range of species, including the endangered Okanagan salmon, which depend on the waterways for spawning.
However recent events in combination — forestry practices, wildfires, and floods — have significantly impacted these essential resources.
Forestry practices can increase erosion, sedimentation, and the disruption of natural water flow patterns. The loss of vegetation also makes the land more vulnerable to wildfires, which have become more frequent and severe due to climate change. These wildfires further exacerbate the watershed's degradation by burning vegetation, leaving the soil exposed, and increasing the risk of erosion and sedimentation.
The resulting accumulation of sediment in creeks raises creek beds, reducing their capacity to carry water and increase the likelihood of flooding. Floods are yet another challenge faced by Kelowna's watersheds. Heavy rainfall events and rapid snowmelt have led to an increase in flood occurrences.
These floods not only damage the watersheds but also cause widespread destruction to homes, and infrastructure, causing significant economic losses and displacing residents.
Farmland is also severely impacted, with floods causing soil erosion, crop damage, and reduced agricultural productivity. Over the last two years, I have toured many of the areas in our watershed to see these aspects of the change in water patterns that has occurred.
Touring McMillian farms, I could see how some tertiary streams were no longer active as sediment prevents the water from entering. This blockage causes water levels in Mission Creek to rise, flooding valuable farmable land. Additionally, flood waters have threatened homes along Mission Creek in the KLO area more times in recent years than not. The creek bed has risen so much through sediment deposits that the capacity of the creek’s flow has diminished. With nowhere to go, the waters flood that entire area.
Additionally, the degradation of watersheds poses a significant threat to Kelowna's wildlife, particularly the Okanagan salmon. Increased sedimentation of the waterways disrupts its spawning habitats, which can lead to a decline in salmon populations.
Recently, I urged the Minister of Water, Land and Resources to see the importance of the Okanagan Lake watershed and the devastating consequences of degradation, and take action. The province needs to prioritize watershed mapping and contribute funds for mitigation.
We can all see degradation of Kelowna's watersheds is partly attributable to the lack of coordination among various layers of government. Federal, provincial, and municipal authorities each have jurisdiction over different aspects of watershed management, and the absence of a cohesive strategy has resulted in a stagnation of critical watershed mapping efforts. This paralysis has hindered the development and implementation of effective policies and programs that could help mitigate the impacts of forestry, fires, and floods on the region's watersheds.
To achieve meaningful progress in protecting and restoring Kelowna's watersheds, it is imperative all levels of government work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach that prioritizes watershed health and resilience.
I will continue to meet with ministry staff to find funds, while working with various stakeholders to bring together a united voice.
The importance of watersheds in Kelowna cannot be overstated.
My question to you is this:
What changes have you seen in the Okanagan’s watershed over the years?
I love hearing from you and read every email received. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.
Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.