Two climate change experts were in the East Kootenay last week to urge Columbia Basin residents to get informed about the predicted changes to our water resources.
Bob Sandford, the EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and Deborah Harford, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Adaption to Climate Change Team, visited Cranbrook and Kimberley from October 24 to 26 to give public lectures and meet with students at McKim Middle School and the College of the Rockies.
The pair spoke about how predicted climate change will affect water resources, and what East Kootenay residents can do to prepare.
“My message for the Kootenays is that what is happening in the rest of Canada and around the world suggests you are in a very positive position with respect to the benefits that will accrue here as a result of managing water more effectively,” Sandford told the Townsman.
“By decreasing water usage, by being very careful in understanding natural processes and ecosystem needs for water, by understanding the larger dynamics of the Columbia River Treaty, you can position yourself as a region to have a very positive future.”
But B.C.’s water act is outdated with elements that are more than 100 years old, said Harford.
“It predates climate change, it predates pretty much everything that has every happened in B.C.,” she said, adding that it doesn’t contain groundwater protection policies.
She explained the impacts climate change will have in the East Kootenay.
“You will get warmer, wetter winters with more rain falling as snow on lower elevations, and more heavy precipitation events that are unpredictable. So you’ve got more chance of flooding. There will be longer, hotter, dryer summers, without the benefit of the snowpack and ice that used to be there at lower elevations running off, so you are more likely to get drought at the end of the summer,” she said.
“All of those things have implications for everything from civic infrastructure, to farmers and their water allocations, to how we deal with the Columbia River Treaty.”
Reconsidering the Columbia River Treaty is a pivotal opportunity for the region, agreed Sandford, because it offers the chance to make policy based on the current understanding of ecosystems, an energized hydrological cycle, equity with First Nations, and the fact that climate change could affect surrounding regions differently.
“The reconsideration of the Columbia River Treaty is an opportunity to address all of those things simultaneously so that you might be able to use crafting of new conditions of the treaty as an adaptation strategy for the entire region,” he said.
The Columbia Basin is uniquely positioned to make a difference to the province, Sandford went on.
“Water act modernization, nesting that in the Columbia River Treaty, and responding to these larger issues is an economic and a social opportunity for the people who live in the Basin and ought to be considered as such,” he said.
Harford echoed the importance of speaking up.
“I encourage people to write to their mayors and councillors, to their MLAs and MPs, and to think about this in the provincial election next year,” she said. “We really need to let our leaders know that we care about it. Anybody in this region who does care about our water systems would be helping by bringing that up.
“Let local leaders know you want to see these issues considered in policy, and that you are prepared to help and support.”
The series was sponsored by Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook, Wildsight and the College of the Rockies. Learn more about B.C.’s water act at www.livingwatersmart.ca.