The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen has been awarded $500,000 in gas tax funding to study the Similkameen watershed.
Water sustainability will be investigated, taking into account climate change in the Valley.
“We want to really understand the supply of water we have, the demand for it in the future and how that will relate to planning,” said Area H director Brad Hope.
“This includes mining, ranching and housing development.”
He said it’s important to set a water quality benchmark so future changes can be monitored.
The study comes in the wake of international negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty, which are scheduled to begin in 2014.
The river flows in both the U.S. and Canada, making it a hot topic for both countries.
The final treaty will be signed in 2024, giving 10 years for both countries to form an agreement.
“There’s going to be pressure from the United States as water becomes a more valuable commodity,” Hope said.
Treaty negotiations will also be important for Canada because there is potential for two major dams on the river – one in Canada and the other across the border, he added.
The study will be a joint effort between the Similkameen Valley Planning Society, the Upper and Lower Similkameen First Nations and municipal and regional governments.
A main focus will be looking at ways to ensure water will be sustainable in the future.
“There are areas in the Okanagan Valley were development plans are in place and they are finding out there isn’t enough water,” Hope said.
The study will be used to plan ahead for water use, instead of trying to fix existing problems.
“People are starting to recognize what we always took for granted – you can’t do that anymore,” Hope said.
“If you do take it for granted, you’ll end up like the Okanagan where they have a lot of problems they need to solve.”
The affects of climate change on the Similkameen Valley will also be investigated to help Canada negotiate with the U.S.
“We’re expected to get a much faster run-off in the fall and winter and lower summer flows, We want to know what affects this will this have on agriculture,” Hope said.