Last summer’s drought and water restrictions, combined with the Sitkum fire, was a wake up call for Nelson. In response, a group of citizens is planning a conference to look at all aspects of water use in the West Kootenay.
“Many people are not aware of water issues,” says organizer Jan Inglis (pictured below), “and there is a lack of understanding of the implications of how we use water.”
The conference, entitled Water and Climate Change: Hot and Bothered in the Kootenays, will take place on April 22 and 23. The conference has the tag-line: “Discussing water and climate issues today so are are ready for tomorrow.”
The focus on the future comes from the expectation that climate change will exacerbate the kinds of problems we saw last summer.
“One of the themes of this conference is how to prevent damage, rather than sitting and waiting for something worse to happen,” says city councillor Valerie Warmington, who is one of the organizers but is not officially representing the city.
The first half day of the conference will be for people in various levels of government, and the second for the public. It will consist of talks, forums, and discussion groups. It will have some creative and performance aspects.
“We want to look at the problem in ways that are creative and inspiring, and also let people know about the challenges we face,” says Inglis.
Bob Sandford, an internationally recognized water expert based in Canmore, Alta., will be the guest speaker.
The organizers say it is important to have a discussion about water in Nelson now because:
• The City of Nelson relies on snowpack and rainfall to replenish its reservoir that only has a few days water supply. Last year, from Sept. 11 to Dec. 10, Level 4 water restrictions were required and will likely continue in future summers.
• Rural water systems were issued a low water advisory and water conservation request by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations in August. A number of rural residents had to adjust water storage, use secondary sources, or were without water at times during the summer.
• The local impacts of climate change are, and will continue to, influence water resources in the East and West Kootenays. Less snow, higher temperatures and more precipitation in the form of extreme events are expected to be the norm. Glaciers, which are critical to a sustainable water supply, are shrinking annually as a result of diminishing snow packs and increasing temperatures
• More residents in the West Kootenay than anywhere else in the province rely on surface water from creeks and streams where flows are expected to change as a result of climate change, increasing the need to build local capacity and resilience in the face of changing water supplies.
• There are no coordinated conservation measures in place for the hundreds of small water systems in the West Kootenay.
• The new BC Water Sustainability Act needs to be understood as it can provide guidance and support to communities and decision-makers alike.
• Residents and business need to understand the relevance of new metered water systems. The City of Nelson will continue to implement a commercial water metering program in 2016, and the Regional District of Central Kootenay is also taking a phased approach to water starting this year.
“For me, the most important thing is that people understand the risks we face with climate change,” Warmington says, “and that people reduce water consumption and capture more water. It is becoming more important to have less pavement or anything that is not permeable, and we need to landscape with the idea of harvesting water, keeping water on your land longer rather than running it out onto the street.”
Warmington pointed out that drought affects fisheries and lake levels, and is not simply a matter of domestic water supplies.
The conference organizing group consists of Warmington, Ramona Faust, Martin Carver, Michael Jessen, Laura Sacks, Mel Reasoner, Lynne Betts, Jan Inglis and Avery DeBoer.
The City of Nelson will contribute to the event by donating the services of its water ambassador, Avery DeBoer, as an organizer.