By: Eugene Fernandes

We’re told to use less water day to day, but it turns out it doesn’t make as much of an environmental impact as hoped for. Compared to the agricultural sector, residents’ impact on the Okanagan’s water supply is tiny.

Residents of Kelowna use 31% of the water supply[1] for things such as bathing, flushing, drinking, cooking, and watering gardens. In order to ensure water for future years, many install water efficient toilets, shut off taps more, and take shorter showers. But do these make a difference? According to Dr. Jeff Curtis, they make a dent, but it greatly depends on where the water comes from, and to where it goes. The water source for UBC Okanagan is the McKinley Reservoir, but waste water goes to the Okanagan Lake. Water saving devices have an impact at UBCO because they drain the McKinley Reservoir slower. In downtown Kelowna on the other hand, the Okanagan lake does not really drain quickly since the water coming out of the Okanagan Lake returns to it after sewage treatment. The difference these devices make is that they save both you and Kelowna’s water sewage treatment plant money, which never hurts.

The mishandling of manure leads to poor water quality. Agriculture uses around 55% of the water supply[2], and so they have a greater responsibility towards it. Dairy and poultry farms produce a lot of manure, which can poison the water supply. Manure makes for great fertilizer because it has a lot of nutrients, but it can also dissolve easily in water. If too much of the nutrient Nitrogen dissolves into the water, then there are health risks to drinking it. As such, farms need to use manure at the right time. It has to be mixed into the soil before the plants grow, but after the snow has melted, so that the snow doesn’t wash away the nutrients. The danger is that plants may not be able to absorb all of the nutrients, and they would seep into groundwater or be carried away into lakes and streams. The problem with this is that the city cannot tell when there is too much nitrogen in the water until it’s too late.

The solution moving forward is for residents and agriculture to adopt goals of sustainability together that are informed by scientific research and which take into account the disproportionate use of water.

[1] Okanagan Basin Water Board’s Strategic plan.

[2] Okanagan Basin Water Board’s Strategic plan.