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17th August 2023
Report reveals water usage more than Deep Creek can sustainably handle

Jon Manchester
Aug. 11, 2023

Spallumcheen's aquifer is "oversubscribed," placing spawning fish in danger and posing a threat to adequate water supply for agricultural and residential use.

When consulting firm Urban Systems put out a press release earlier this week on behalf of the North Okanagan township, it urged residents to conserve water, saying the Okanagan has one of the highest rates of water use per person in Canada.

Anyone who has lived here for a summer or two knows that's not exactly news. It's hot and dry here.

"With more than 1,000 litres of water used per person per day during the summer months in the Okanagan, it's crucial that we conserve water to ensure we have enough to meet our needs today, and in the future," the release stated.

"The township is asking residents, businesses, and agricultural producers to take a proactive step towards a sustainable future for our region's water. By implementing water-saving practices, not only can we help conserve our existing water supply, but we can also secure a stable aquifer for generations to come."

What the release didn't explain is what prompted the "urgent" call for conservation.

Spallumcheen deputy corporate officer Lisa Gyorkos admits the 'save water' message isn't new.

So what's behind the plea?

"Spallumcheen's aquifer is oversubscribed," says Gyorkos, and water use is "higher than would be optimal."

"We need to balance the needs of agriculture and the community and are being proactive," she said. "We want to make sure the community gets the message that it's not somebody else's problem."

A draft Deep Creek environmental flow needs assessment prepared for council in January states "the cumulative withdrawal amount through groundwater and surface water licensing represents 72% of the estimated yearly runoff."

This places Deep Creek at what the report terms risk management level 3.

Hydrometric data collected in 2022 showed insufficient water for kokanee to spawn, due to beaver dams on the creek. Even without the beaver dams, models predict "borderline" water levels.

Kokanee haven't been seen in the creek since 1943, however.

The data found sufficient flow for rainbow trout incubation.

The testing came about after Spallumcheen submitted a new groundwater application in 2021 for 496,692 cubic metres a year.

The current Larkin system maximum demand is in the range of 15.7-18.4 litres per second.

Larkin currently has four groundwater wells, with two to be decommissioned due to poor water quality. With their closure, the system will not be able to meet peak demand.

The township is hoping to license a new well on Spallumcheen Place to make up the deficit as well as support future light industrial development.

Based on requirements of the Water Sustainability Act, the Ministry of Forests requested the flow needs assessment in support of the licence application.

"Water is essential to our agricultural sector. Taking steps such as embracing modern irrigation technologies, finding and fixing any water leaks, and optimizing irrigation schedules can significantly reduce water usage," Mayor Christine Fraser said in this week's release.

"Residents and businesses can also help by making small changes to their daily habits, such as fixing leaks, using water-efficient appliances, harvesting rainwater, and more."

The township is developing a plan to better manage the resource, improving channelization of Deep Creek, and is conducting studies to determine if there are harmful effects on the water ecosystem based on current water usage.

"If everyone does their part to use a little less water today, we can cultivate a brighter tomorrow for our crops and our community," said Fraser.

Gyorkos says roundtable farming meetings have also been held to better understand how extreme heat impacts agricultural operations and water needs.