Monthly Archives: May 2013

Kettle River Q&A – How will our watershed plan succeed?

There is no one recipe for watershed management planning.

But after surveying watershed plans, implementation updates and feedback from other planners, I have found five key ingredients for success. These ingredients need to be in place, to some degree, before action on watershed issues can be initiated – and sustained.

The first ingredient, at the start of most watershed plans, is having some watershed challenges. These emerge when a community’s uses and values of water are impacted or perceived to be threatened by human activities and natural changes in the environment.

In the Kettle River watershed, a mixture of natural and human-caused pressures including variable river flows, high water use, water quality problems, high temperatures, overfishing and riparian habitat destruction mean that our sport fishes and associated ecosystem and recreational values are impaired.

Between 2000 and 2010, public concerns increased over droughts, water use, and potential impacts of resort and hydroelectric power development. These concerns led the BC Outdoor Recreation Council to list the Kettle River as one of our top “most endangered” rivers in 2010 and 2011.

In 2010 the RDKB made the decision to undertake a watershed management plan to study the watershed and develop strategies to address issues, in consultation with the public and other organizations. This mandate is the second key ingredient.

Local, provincial, federal, or First Nations government authorities and watershed organizations initiate plans to develop better policy and support decision making about the land and water resources impacted by watershed challenges.

How far their mandate extends depends on their own jurisdiction and how well they reach out to other levels of government to develop support, the third key ingredient. Support comes in the form of policy that enables implementation, funding for planning activities, and public buy-in for the planning process.

Building support takes time and effort in lobbying for resources or policy changes, persuading others to get involved, and reaching out to the public to engage good conversations about issues and solutions in the watershed. This is a key goal of the Stakeholder Engagement Plan adopted by the Stakeholder Advisory Committee last fall.

Issues and outcomes discussed by survey respondents in the fall 2012 survey.
Issues and outcomes discussed by survey respondents in the fall 2012 survey.

A key aspect of those conversations is improving understanding of watershed processes and issues by summarizing current knowledge, doing scientific studies to fill major knowledge gaps, and sharing that information with the public and stakeholders. Strategies tend to work better when they are based on holistic and comprehensive understanding of watershed issues.

In 2011 the RDKB commissioned a study of current technical knowledge about the watershed (Phase 1 Technical Report). Riparian ecosystems were one of the key data gaps identified in the report, which is why we established the Riparian Working Group and sought funding from SIBAC (Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition) to perform a “riparian threat assessment” with the Granby Wilderness Society.

All the support and understanding in the world won’t address watershed challenges without improving the capacity of our communities to implement improvements in how we manage land and water.

Capacity means having skills, tools, and most importantly people in different organizations and sectors working together. We will need to develop partnerships, training, and extension to improve community capacity during implementation.

These ingredients – challenges, mandate, support, understanding, and capacity – are catalysts to each other. Like lemon juice and baking soda, they work best when mixed in at the right time during planning. But they can also be like garnishes that are added later, with a flourish, to make the plan more savoury or digestible during implementation.

Taking action on watershed issues in isolation and without developing support, understanding and capacity will not help us develop lasting, positive changes in the watershed.

Contact Graham with watershed questions (

Kettle River Q&A: Eating water – daily water use much higher than it seems

By the time you finished breakfast this morning, you may have already used 1,000 litres of water. But for the average B.C. resident, showering, flushing, washing dishes, making coffee adds up to 160 or so litres. So what’s going on?

Our daily water use, or footprint, is only partly made up of what flows out of our taps and toilets. The other part is virtual – water that was used to grow or produce the foods, goods, and energy we use every day.

If you add up the total water use required to manufacture, grow or produce a food product or consumer good, you have its water footprint.

The best we can do is to coarsely estimate this footprint.

For your breakfast, the egg (200 litres), toast (40 litres), milk (255 litres), cereal (100 litres) and coffee (140 litres) used far more water than your five minute shower (100 litres) or toilet flush (15 to 20 litres).

Add a sausage for 1,700 litres! Drive to work and you need to include up to 100 litres per litre of fuel plus the 60,000 litres used to make your car.

A few key terms help us understand water use. Consumptive use is where the water is evaporated, transpired by plants or incorporated into products. It is no longer useable as a water source until it condenses, falls as precipitation and is stored, usually somewhere else.

With non-consumptive water use, water just passes through our bodies, homes or fields before flowing back into the ground or into the wastewater treatment facility, and ultimately the river.

The important thing about non-consumptive use is that the water is altered in some way. On its way from the surface to the aquifers, it picks up all sorts of substances – nitrates, salts and pesticides.

As it passes through our bodies, water picks up lots of nutrients as well as whatever medications, hormones and personal care products we’ve applied. It’s altered and conventional treatment can only take out some of the additives.

So the source of our virtual water determines its impact. If our products come from areas with high water scarcity and ecosystems that are stressed by pollution, the overall impact may be much higher than products from wetter areas with lower pollution loads.

And when it comes to virtual water, everywhere is someone’s backyard and drinking water source. It can make a big difference to someone’s water when we lower our water footprint.

Find out more about water footprints at

– Contact Graham Watt ( about this or any other watershed questions.

[Originally published in the Grand Forks Gazette on May 7, 2013]

Kettle River Q&A: Where is my drinking water from?

Where does your drinking water come from?

That’s the question that I hope will be on everyone’s mind over the coming weeks.

May 20-26 has been declared Drinking Water Week by the BC Water & Waste Association. Events are planned around the province (including Grand Forks) to help people learn more about where their drinking water comes from and how we manage it.

When asked in our recent survey about the uses and values of water that mattered most to them, survey respondents consistently named household supply as the most important water use. As residents expressed, safe drinking water is “blue gold” – we “can’t live without it!”

In the Kettle River Watershed, residents get their drinking water from many different sources: municipal utilities, irrigation & improvement districts, community water supplies, and their own private wells, springs and surface water intakes.

Most survey respondents rely on groundwater through municipal water systems (40%), irrigation districts (15%) or private wells (30%). Less than 10% of respondents rely on surface water.

Each water source has its own strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered by utility managers and well owners alike.

Larger suppliers need to use a “multi-barrier” approach to protect drinking water sources from contamination. This involves considering potential risks in the watershed, filtering and treating surface water, and keeping the distribution system free of contamination.

Wherever sufficient, quality groundwater is available, residents and water users have favoured it over surface supplies because it is generally more reliable and requires little or no treatment. Large water suppliers like the City of Grand Forks, the Grand Forks Irrigation District, the Village of Midway, and the City of Greenwood all provide well water to residents, farms and businesses.

In the Grand Forks Aquifer, most of the large supply wells are deeper than 30 metres (90 feet). Some of the deep wells in the central and western parts of the valley yield over 75 litres per second (1000 gallons per minute). Water levels are replenished every year by spring floods, snowmelt and precipitation, although high levels of use means less cool water returning to the Kettle River.

Because of the increasing availability of water from large water suppliers, the valley is dotted with wells that are no longer in use. If these haven’t been closed (abandoned) properly, they can allow contamination on the surface to travel down to the groundwater and threaten other people’s supply.

The City of Grand Forks will be hosting events during Drinking Water Week, including at one of their new wells – stay tuned for more details. And get the Boundary on the map for your commitment to save water by taking the Drinking Water Challenge at

Contact Graham Watt ( about this or any other watershed questions.