Water Potability And Turbidity Issues In The Okanagan: Time To Get Serious


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The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

We have a major water problem in the Okanagan that will take decades to address.  It is also a clear opportunity for local economic development effort.  There are local people focused on this, and I commend them. But it will take much greater effort than currently.

Why aren’t we more aggressively focusing our local resources and capabilities to address this problem?  The Israeli’s currently lead the World in this area.

When I first arrived in the Okanagan in the late summer of 2005, we were surprised to find that the tap water had a very distinct yellow and brownish coloration. The drinking water was “turbid.”   This turbid discoloration is also noticeable in the water supply to the UBC Okanagan campus. The university regularly flushes its system because of the turbidity. But the problem is at the source, not with the university.

In April 2007, shortly after forming the Okanagan Environmental Industry Alliance, I arranged with my other Directors to meet with Richard Neufeld, at the time BC Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum in his offices in Victoria.  During the course of our meeting, I politely asked Minister Neufeld his views on the rising concerns in the Province about diminishing water resources and climate change.  Minister Neufeld replied that there was no water problem in BC, and that BC (quote) “need not worry about water for at least another 100 years” (unquote).   Clearly, Minister Neufeld did not share the concern of a growing number of experts in the Province.

The Okanagan Valley is the northernmost extension of the Great Basin that extends from northern Nevada, through eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, all in the shadows of the coastal mountain ranges, and with precipitation levels that require that we apply water conservation technology matched only by the Israeli’s. Stated bluntly, it is very dry here and will likely only get worse.

Turbidity is a scientific measurement of the clarity of a water source.   In the United States there is a federal standard for turbidity in drinking water, but it would seem that whatever turbidity standard may exist here is not as stringent. The importance of turbidity is that there are strong established scientific links between turbidity and human disease.  Our local turbidity is caused largely by decaying timber in the local reservoir system. The coloration occurs from micron size impurities so small that they are nearly impossible to remove. It was explained to us that it is also possible for dangerous pathogens to attach to the micron size particles causing the discoloration.  Hence, we received a boil water notice soon after we arrived and have had numerous other boil water advisories.  As I traveled about the region, I learned that Summerland also had a similar turbidity problem.  Drinking water quality throughout the Okanagan has given rise to a huge market for bottled pure water in every supermarket, and a number of private companies selling “pure” water services and systems.  The cost of this kind of delivery of potable water is astronomical.

What is going on here in a community of extremely expensive homes on Okanagan Lake?

We came from a coastal community in northern California, Moss Beach, part of the Coastside Community Water District.  We paid the highest monthly water service charges in the state of California. The water was in short supply and very high in mineral content. Some homes had no connection to the municipal system whatsoever because the California Public Utilities Commission declared a moratorium on any new connections. The system was max’ed out.  Domestic water wells produced very poor quality turbid water in quantities that failed to meet minimum government requirements for public health, much less human consumption. The local authorities turned a blind eye, and property development was a much higher priority ($$$) than public health.  My next door neighbor, with two young daughters, had no municipal connection, so I agreed that my neighbor could connect his home to my garden hose when his well failed.

Is this the future of the Okanagan?  Is it a glass half empty or a glass half full of opportunity to use our local resources and capabilities to change our course?

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One Comment on “Water Potability And Turbidity Issues In The Okanagan: Time To Get Serious”

  1. David Jenkins February 13, 2013 at 11:38 #

    David,

    There is good effort from some municipalities to bring this to the fore. However, over 40% of our residents do not believe there is a problem; “Just look at the Lake”, they say, “how can water be a scarce resource?”

    This is an ideal issue for the Okanagan collectively to show real world-class leadership but it will take serious effort to get the political will to do it.

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