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Update: Local residents’ water concerns captured in new report

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
August 4th, 2023

Water is not under the bridge as a new report is shedding some light on West Kootenay residents’ concerns about water during drought-like times.

Called the 2023 Community Engagement for the Lower Columbia Kootenay Hydrologic Region, the report published by Living Lakes Canada comes out amidst drought conditions across most of British Columbia, including the West Kootenay.

Two weeks ago, citing “severe drought levels and unprecedented conditions,” the Regional District of Central Kootenay declared the region at a level four for drought — on a zero to five scale.

“This means adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are likely,” noted a press release from the RDCK.

According to the report, water and climate concerns related to human activity (such as logging and development at 27.1 per cent) and water supply (24 per cent). For lakes and streams, people identified drinking water, fish habitat and agricultural impacts as the three top priorities for both water “quantity” and “quality” monitoring.

“Participants (in the project) also expressed concerns about aquifer depletion, reduced supply in groundwater wells, and melting glaciers, and a strong interest in monitoring changes to snowpack and snowmelt patterns,” noted Paige Thurston, program manager for Living Lakes Canada’s Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework.

According to the provincial government’s zero to five drought level rating system, the West Kootenay has been sitting at a consistent level four since early July. At drought level four, negative impacts on communities and ecosystems due to dry conditions are considered “likely.”

“Evidence of drought is visible in increasing water restrictions, extreme fire danger, and low flows in rivers and streams (the natural inflow into Kootenay Lake from its tributaries hit a record low leading into July),” read a press release from the RDCK in late July.

The effects were evident well before late July, said Thurston, with below average snowpack in addition to low spring and summer precipitation resulting in less water in West Kootenay lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs.

“Lower stream flows can cause warmer river temperatures, affecting fish and other aquatic life, as well as have an impact on groundwater levels,” she said.

Drought also means the land is susceptible to wildfire. Currently, the fire danger rating in the region varies between moderate, high and extreme — extreme fire danger means extremely dry forest fuels and the fire risk is serious.

All RDCK water systems are at stage two water conservation measures. Stricter water conservation measures may be required if demand increases significantly, hot and dry weather persists, or if the reservoir declines to critically low levels.

Going public

A series of public meetings were held in Nelson, Trail, Creston and online in early 2023 to collect and document people’s water concerns and priorities for the Lower Columbia-Kootenay hydrologic region.

The region in question also included the communities of Rossland, Castlegar, Salmo and Yaqan Nuʔkiy. One-on-one consultations were also held, and a survey circulated. Feedback was provided by 111 people from a broad range of sectors and demographics. 

In the Lower Columbia-Kootenay region, the two biggest demographics to participate were those who identified as water stewardship/non-profit group members (26.1 per cent) and community members (23.4 per cent) followed by regional government (12.6 per cent) and the industry/private sector (7.2 per cent).

Participants had the opportunity to suggest specific streams, creeks, lakes, ponds, watersheds and aquifers they would like to see monitored. They were also invited to share their priorities for additional monitoring.

Source: Living Lakes Canada

Project report 

• For more information about the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework project, including a full-length report on its 2022 pilot implementation in the Columbia Valley, Elk River Valley and Slocan Valley/North Kootenay Lake regions, visit www.livinglakescanada.ca/cbwmf.

• Living Lakes Canada is developing a shortlist of sites based on the community feedback in combination with scientific parameters including the results of a data gap analysis. Those who provided feedback will have the opportunity to review the shortlist before a final selection is made and monitoring is implemented in the fall. Preliminary data from the project will be made available in 2024 through the Columbia Basin Water Hub database (www.cbwaterhub.ca).

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