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NEWS: Proposal for new water flow agreement from BC lake to US prompts concerns

Osoyoos Lake in southern British Columbia

Osoyoos Lake in southern British Columbia

Osoyoos Lake is a lake located in British Columbia and Washington, bisected by the Canada-US border. The Okanagan River flows south past Penticton into Osoyoos Lake and then into the Okanogan River on the US side. The Zosel dam, located on the Okanogan River in Washington, was constructed in 1987 replacing one constructed in 1927. The dam was originally constructed to create a log storage pond, although the dam now stores water in Osoyoos Lake for irrigation, domestic, recreation, and fisheries uses. Osoyoos Lake levels have been subject to a 25-year term international water-sharing agreement, governed by the International Joint Commission, that is set to expire in 2013.

Postmedia News reports this morning, “Fears are surfacing in British Columbia over a call to guarantee water flows to the US under an international agreement controlling Osoyoos Lake levels. …The current International Joint Commission orders for the Zosel Dam in Washington dictate the level of Osoyoos Lake in the summer and winter, but do not guarantee flows to the United States. When there is less water available to maintain lake levels, there is less water available to spill into the U.S.”

“There is also concern the agreement…could be renewed in perpetuity as is more common in other similar Canada-U.S. water contracts. …A report by University of Washington engineering professor Michael Barber…recommends ‘codifying’, or guaranteeing, water flows through the U.S.-side Zosel Dam based on historic water releases. …Guaranteeing flows to the U.S. could mean less water for the Okanagan Valley, in the province’s interior, a concern because water is not only a critical resource for the growing population and tourism, but also for fruit and grape growers and a re-emerging sockeye salmon run.” The Osoyoos mayor says guaranteeing water flows could affect lakes in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton.

“The Canadian concerns are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, which could bring more frequent droughts to the arid region. …Another study for the commission…, by Summit Environmental Consultants Inc. of Vernon, B.C., says climate change will bring a host of changing conditions such as early spring run-off, a reduced snowpack which might affect water supply in summer, higher evaporation from Osoyoos Lake and less accurate stream-flow forecasts.”

“The International Joint Commission, a Canadian-U.S. entity established under the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty, will be meeting next week to discuss the terms of (the) agreement which expires in 2013.”

The Postmedia News report is at http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Controversy+brews+over+water+flow+deal+with/5419288/story.html.