Category Archives: publications

Kettle River Q&A: Responding to drought with water conservation

We’re going to need to work together on this one. What helps us conserve water during a drought, and why do we not take more steps to conserve water?

At a recent meeting of water suppliers and municipalities in Grand Forks to discuss the drought situation and potential responses, I introduced some ideas about what motivates water conservation, framed as personal reasons people don’t conserve. We had a good conversation about what these ideas mean for how we develop the short and long term water conservation strategies – more on that later.

“It’s not a problem.” I’ve heard this quite a bit on social media, letters to the editor, and even public meetings. People aren’t aware of their connection between their water use and the state of the Kettle River, or they don’t believe that they have enough impact, either way, to start conserving.

There certainly is a problem. The Kettle River and many of its tributaries are flowing very low right now, after a low snowpack and early spring freshet. The region (like much of southern B.C.) is at a Level 4 drought, and any excess water use from surface or ground water reduces available water for fish, water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and downstream use.

This seems like it should be easy to fix – more education! More signs, more media coverage, more pamphlets. Many of the water suppliers are already working on this. Awareness certainly helps, but it turns out there are many more barriers in the way to water conservation. Indeed, awareness without other measures will only motivate change for some people.

“No restrictions are in place.” According to water supply managers at the meeting, restrictions are having an impact on overall water use, with many people even going further to allow their lawns to go dormant.

However, the provincial government has so far only requested voluntary reductions of 30% or more, and only some of the water suppliers have a drought response plan that restricts outdoor water use. Furthermore, provincial regulations currently only affect surface water licences, even though using ground water from sand and gravel aquifers has a direct impact on surface water levels.

New regulations coming under the Water Sustainability Act could go a long way to improve our drought response, together with active efforts at compliance and enforcement by water suppliers and local and provincial governments. They will need your input to get these regulations right – future columns will highlight proposed changes.

“My neighbours are all still watering.” The ‘neighbour effect’ cannot be underestimated. People are highly motivated by peer pressure and shared ideas of right and wrong. So taking visible steps to reduce water use – allowing the lawn to go dormant, installing drip irrigation, planting a dryland (xeriscape) garden – will go a long way to shift attitudes in your neighbourhood.

“I pay the same no matter how much I use.” Paying a fixed fee for any utility or resource just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when that resource is scarce and connected to many other valuable uses.

People who save water will also value saving money on their utility bill, and people who want to use more can feel good about paying their fair share. It will be up to water suppliers how they make this work, through water meters or through more radical measures such as paying people to remove lawns or install drip irrigation and greywater systems.

Silva Yard
Caption: Margaret and Robert Silva have planted a dryland (xeriscape) garden in place of lawn, avoiding using tens of thousands of litres of water per year. Drip irrigation and careful hand watering has reduced their outdoor water use even further.

“I don’t know how to…” Fill in the blank – reprogram the irrigation timer, install drip irrigation, plant a xeriscape garden. Helping people learn new skills of water conservation will not only help them save water, it will ripple outwards through the neighbour effect. So water suppliers should start to work together on building skills for water conservation with demonstration gardens, hands-on workshops, or in-house instruction. Community members could also share their successes through public demonstrations and garden tours.

“It’s too expensive, complex, or inconvenient to change my system.” This turns out to be a big one, because large farms and businesses have complex, expensive water and irrigation systems already in place. They also use a lot of water compared to households and domestic gardens. It makes sense to support farmers and others in installing more efficient irrigation equipment, sharing costs or providing incentives through programs like Environmental Farm Plan.

Bringing all of this together will take time, effort, and a shared understanding of the role of water conservation in a healthy, resilient Kettle River Watershed. We will develop long-term strategies at future meetings of water suppliers. How will you fit in?

Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at plan@kettleriver.caor 250.442.4111.

Kettle River Q&A: What’s happening with the spring runoff?

What’s happening with the spring runoff this year?

If you are wondering about the snowpack levels and the river flows this spring you are not alone.

Ever since the early high water of February and March, people have been asking about what was happening with the runoff this year, what will happen this summer with low flows, and whether this is already a sign of climate change affecting the watershed.

This is a story that is still unfolding, but I will start at the beginning – the headwaters. The Kettle River has no glaciers or large reservoirs that regulate its flow, so we need to understand snow accumulation and the timing of its melt. The snowpack is a kind of reservoir that delivers water slowly over a period of months, providing meltwater for early summer river flows.

Five automated high elevation ‘snow pillow’ stations in the area provide a stark view of the rapid melting that is at least three weeks earlier than the 30-year average. The stations provide the key measure of ‘snow water equivalent’ (SWE), which describes the depth of water in a given snowpack that you would find if you melted it instantly. And the snowpack does seem to be melting almost instantly with the recent high temperatures and weekend rains.

In the high mountains above the Christian Valley, the Grano Creek station now has 3% (just over 1 cm) of the long-term average SWE, and will have no snow any day. That’s the lowest on record – the earliest spring melt – since the station was installed in 1998.

Near the headwaters of the Kettle River, the Barnes Creek station now has no snow, while the Mission Creek station is faring slightly better at 30% of normal. South of the border, the Sentinel Butte station east of Curlew and the new Gold Axe Camp station east of Chesaw both have no snow. You can find the latest data yourself at

So what does all this mean for flows in the Kettle River?

It is probably bad news for river recreation this summer. Already, the warm, wet winter that was so hard on coastal and lower elevation ski resorts in this region gave us an early spring runoff in mid-February that was ten times normal and characteristic of mid-April. A second peak on April 1 was also ten times normal and similar to late-May flows.

Now, the Kettle River is flowing at about 70% of normal volume for late May. With very little snowpack left, the river will likely continue declining for a long low period unless the early summer is cool and very wet.

Unfortunately, the long-term forecast calls for warmer than average conditions across the region. On the positive side, it might be a good year for watermelons and other heat-loving crops. But the long growing season will mean greater evaporation from soil and water and much higher transpiration from plants, both leading to greater water demand from irrigation, outdoor water use, and forests.

This prognosis has already caused a drought state of emergency in Washington State, and coastal British Columbia could face a very tough year for water supplies. Communities in the Southern Interior will have to take great care to monitor water supplies and control water use to soften the impact in our area.

For many people, the low snowpack and warm summer on the way provides the even scarier possibility of major fires in the region. When the snow is gone early the branches, logs and organic matter that litter the forest floor can dry out that much quicker, which can mean a much longer and more dangerous fire season. Already, record warm and dry spring conditions in northern BC and the Yukon have led to large wildfires.

Indeed, NASA has reported that the January-April period of this year was the hottest on record globally, following the record warm 2014. Over 97% of scientists who work in the field agree that adverse climate change is happening and that humans are responsible. There cannot be any more doubt that we must take decisive action to reduce carbon emissions and improve our resilience to the ‘un-natural’ disasters on the way.

Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at or 250.442.4111.

Kettle River Q&A: Hitting the ground running

It’s often a concern when environmental plans are completed that they will do little more than sit on a shelf. Thanks to the leadership and dedication of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary and many other project partners, the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan has ‘hit the ground running’ and has a number of exciting projects underway and in the works.

At their first meeting of the implementation phase, the Steering Committee for the Watershed Management Plan recently reviewed ideas of how to coordinate the many aspects of implementation over the next three years. “This stage is really exciting,” said Rolly Russell, Director for Area D / Rural Grand Forks and Chair of the Implementation Team. “After all the dialogue over the past few years, now we’re making things happen.  To me, this is where the fun work starts – where we start doing, guided by a great deal of diverse thought and dialogue!”

“When you think back to where we were three years ago, you realize how far we have come, with a report based on strong consultation with a cross section of the community,” said Marguerite Rotvold, who has represented the Village of Midway on the Steering Committee since 2010.

“Implementing the strategies in this plan is also consistent with the high priority given by West Boundary residents to protecting the health of the environment in the broad community survey,” said Vicki Gee, RDKB Director for Area E / West Boundary.

At the RDKB, the Plan will be used to inform a wide variety of decisions that have an impact on water. “I’m looking forward to using the plan when we consider development applications and land use planning,” said Donna Dean, Manager of Planning and Development for the RDKB. “It’s really a lens to help consider and decrease the impacts on water from all kinds of activities.”

Implementation of the Plan will also enable residents of all parts of the Boundary to work ‘hands-on’ on water conservation, stream bank restoration, or other projects. “As this plan rolls out, there will be so many opportunities for communities to work on individual projects that will showcase what we can do together as a region,” said Grace McGregor, Chair of the Steering Committee and the RDKB Board of Directors.

Several projects are already moving from plans to reality this year. Habitat restoration projects are being planned for Beaverdell, Christian Valley, and the Upper Granby to support recovery of the endangered Speckled Dace minnow, thanks to grants from Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk and the Okanagan Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada. The Christina Lake Stewardship Society is planning a lakeshore restoration demonstration and native plant nursery, and funding proposals have been submitted for bank stabilization and fish habitat improvement on the Kettle River beside the historic Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks.

A plan is being developed to bring together all of the water suppliers in a water conservation strategy and education program, and a ‘learning garden’ at the Grand Forks Aquatic Centre will demonstrate water conservation, soil improvement, and an ecological landscape design system called ‘permaculture’.

In a telephone interview, Rick Simpson, who represented BC Wildlife Federation and the Grand Forks Wildlife Association on the Stakeholder Advisory Group, emphasized the long-term commitment required: “This watershed plan will need to be here for a long time, and we’ll need to keep the continuity of effort and leadership that has been given so far – and that is really founded on a wide network in the community that care for the watershed and want to do right by it.”

Simpson is speaking of volunteers like Brad Siemens of the Grand Forks Wildlife Association, who for two years has taken us on river tours to look at fish habitat conditions. I also think of community members from many different organizations who clean up riverbanks and backroads, monitor fish and bird populations, or raise substantial funds for conservation and restoration.

As the coordinator for the planning process and now implementation I am truly excited to continue working with this great network of people to move the Plan to reality, and look forward to meeting with you in the field or in the board room as part of the many projects going forward.

Graham Watt is Coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, and can be reached at / 250.442.4111.


Kettle River Q&A – Small fish with a big role for the Kettle River

Unless you are really into fish, you have probably not heard of the Speckled Dace.

The Speckled Dace (Rhinichthys osculus) is a small minnow (5-9 cm) that is relatively abundant in the Kettle River watershed and in many waterways in the western United States.

The Speckled Dace is a small minnow found in the Kettle River watershed and western United States. Illustration by Nichola Lytle, Pink Dog Designs
The Speckled Dace is a small minnow found in the Kettle River watershed and western United States. Illustration by Nichola Lytle, Pink Dog Designs

But the Kettle River system is the only place in Canada that the Speckled Dace occurs, and if its Canadian population were to be severely harmed, the presence of Cascade Falls would prevent it from naturally returning to the watershed. This fact has led to the listing of the Speckled Dace as Endangered in Schedule 1 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of British Columbia are currently working on a Recovery Strategy for the Speckled Dace. The draft strategy, released for public consultation this fall, identified critical habitat areas in the West Kettle near Beaverdell, the main Kettle in the Christian Valley, and the Granby River near Burrell Creek. The main strategies are to improve key knowledge on the life cycle and habitat use of Speckled Dace and maintain current distribution and abundance within natural ranges.

Several studies have confirmed that Speckled Dace are widely distributed in the watershed, with a population of over 900,000 mature fish. It makes use of riffles, runs and pools, eating aquatic insects and algae with its sucker-like mouth. Little is known about their spawning behaviour, but it is thought to occur in mid-July, with fry appearing in early August.

Some of the main threats to Speckled Dace are low river flows and siltation from road building, forestry, and livestock access. According to Lesley Peterson, a biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada in Calgary, “these issues are also detrimental to Rainbow Trout which not only require cold, clean water but also healthy and functioning riparian areas.”

The geographic isolation has also made the population upstream of Cascade Falls genetically unique. But apart from that most anglers would find their greatest value in their place in the food chain for larger fish-eating predators like adult rainbow trout.

Because of their interest in supporting healthy aquatic ecosystems and rainbow trout in the Kettle River, the Okanagan Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada is supporting projects in the Kettle River, in partnership with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, Golder Associates, Granby Wilderness Society, and other partners.

Through the efforts of their Okanagan Chapter, Trout Unlimited Canada has received funding through the RBC Blue Water Project to conduct enhancement and restoration projects along the Kettle River system. “Through education, stewardship, and on-the-ground projects, our goal is to improve the outlook for not only Speckled Dace, but Rainbow Trout and the Kettle River itself,” said Peterson.

The team is currently identifying potential project sites and preparing background information on sediment reduction and riparian habitat restoration. They are applying for further funding to support the project but would like to initiate work in at least one site by the spring of 2015.

—Graham Watt is coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at or 250.442.4111.

Final discussion paper on riparian, wetland and floodplain management

The Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan is releasing the last of several discussion papers leading up to the draft Watershed Management Plan this summer.

Stepping Back From the Water: Managing Wetlands, Riparian Areas and Floodplains in the Kettle River Watershed (pdf) outlines issues, strategies and actions related to wetlands, floodplains and riparian ecosystems, which are critical for maintaining watershed health and all of the benefits humans derive from it. The paper complements and builds on the ideas presented in all of the previous discussion papers, focusing particularly on issues along the water’s edge.

boundary creek