Okanagan water grants used to respond to climate change

OBWB has approved funding to 17 projects that will help conserve and protect water in the valley.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board has approved more than $318,000 in funding to 17 projects that will help conserve and protect water in the valley while addressing the larger issues of climate change.

Directors approved the Water Conservation and Quality Improvement grants at their last board meeting, April 2. Recipients have now been notified. In total, there were 31 applications with a total ask of $688,281.

The projects tackle Okanagan water issues from several different angles, working with residents, businesses, and local governments. In addition, the projects include collaboration, leveraging OBWB funding and extending on-the-ground efforts.

“Climate change is a reality in our valley,” said OBWB Chair Sue McKortoff. “We have seen extreme flooding, drought and fires, sometimes all in the same year. We can’t work in silos. We need to work together, sharing ideas and resources. This program does that.”

Although the WCQI annual budget is $300,000, additional funds were made available from other previous projects that came in under-budget, allowing the Water Board to award additional dollars. Projects had to show valley-wide benefit and additional consideration was given to those that addressed the board’s annual theme of climate change.

Some of the projects funded this year include:

  • Funding to the Okanagan and Similkameen Stewardship Society to work with residents with riparian areas on their property. The society will work with residents to improve these spaces to act as carbon sinks but also improve water quality before it reaches valley creeks, rivers and lakes.
  • Several water improvement projects were funded including a floodplain re-engagement project on the Okanagan River Channel by the Okanagan Indian Education Resources Society (OIERS)-En’owkin Centre. This project will improve rearing habitat for Indigenous fish species while supporting recovery of at-risk species that require healthy waterways. Re-naturalizing the area with native plants will also enhance carbon sequestration and flood mitigation.
  • The three Okanagan regional districts will develop a Climate Projections Report for local governments, non-profits and interested citizens to develop plans and actions to reduce risks associated with climate variability and changes in water quality and quantity.
  • O’Keefe Ranch received funding to move some animal pens to improve water quality before it enters Okanagan Lake, an important source of drinking water to valley residents.
  • The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association received funds to engage tourism operators on eco-efficiency, including improving energy and water efficiency.
  • The Regional District of North Okanagan will work with landscape contractors to promote proper WaterWise plant selection and irrigation methods.
  • A number of projects aim to engage educators and students on water-related projects including one by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and En’owkin Centre. This project will develop Okanagan water-focussed classroom materials bridging Traditional Ecological Knowledge and western science for valley teachers and students, creating a better understanding and ways to address water issues in our region.

“Despite the fact that we see water in our lakes and streams, we have less water available in the Okanagan per person than elsewhere in Canada,” said McKortoff. “As our population continues to grow, as water availability becomes less certain, and as fires and extreme rain events impact our water quality, things need to change. We can’t keep on the same path. These projects help build a more resilient Okanagan, and offer the opportunity to engage all of us in that effort.”

Since 2006, the WCQI program has provided more than $4.4 million to 267 projects.

Related: Okanagan water suppliers face drought reality

Related: Okanagan Basin water projects funded

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