West Kelowna  

Extreme weather new norm

Extreme weather events will become more common and more intense in the Okanagan, says a climate expert.

This spring, the Valley saw historic flooding, followed by prolonged heat and dry weather, breaking temperature and low precipitation records.

“We’ve already seen a 1 C rise in global temperatures and are already seeing the impacts with back-to-back floods and wildfires that are more intense and extreme,” Maximilian Kniewagser told the annual general meeting of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

“There are challenges, but we can adapt to a 1 C increase. It’s only going to get worse if we get to 2 C, and as a global community we can’t adapt beyond 2 C. So that’s where mitigation comes in."

Kniewagser is director of the Pembina Institute’s B.C. climate policy program. He spoke Friday at the Westbank Lions Community Centre in West Kelowna.

“Above 2 C, there will be loss of biodiversity. Food will be scarce. Rich countries will do fine, but the implications for humanity as a whole will be unprecedented... We are standing at an inflection point – a turning point,” he added.

Kniewagser said the Okanagan offers great opportunities to be a leader in clean technology innovation, while also providing sustainable resource sector jobs in forestry and agriculture.

“The path forward is doable, and our province is in a good place to embrace a clean economy and produce the goods and materials that will be in demand in the changing global economy," he said.

Shaun Reimer, head of public safety and protection with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, was the point man in this spring's flooding crisis in the Okanagan. He controls the dam in Penticton that lets water out of Okanagan Lake. 

He explained how low snowpacks suggested a potential drought this summer, but then unexpected precipitation and warm weather caused stream flows into the lake that exceeded the ability to let water out. 

“We broke our own records for rainfall and have a new high water mark for the Valley,” said water board executive director Anna Warwick Sears. “How do you manage around extreme precipitation? There are some things you just can’t adapt to, so it’s important we bring mitigation into the conversation.

"Drought planning, restoring wetlands to hold flood waters, and promoting landscapes that require less water during hot, dry summers – are all forms of adaptation."

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