The new budget tabled by the provincial government on Tuesday struck some optimistic tones for future water management in the Okanagan Valley.
Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, said her initial positive reaction is reflected on several levels: new funding for watershed management and climate change adaptation initiatives; further incorporation of First Nations into the water and land use decision-making process; and creation of the new cabinet ministry land, water and resource stewardship.
Warwick Sears welcomed the further funding of $30 million for watershed monitoring, restoration and planning grants, following up on a previous commitment of $27 million in 2020.
She said the water board applied for grant funding in 2020 to work on developing a source water protection toolkit and a restoration project in Penticton.
“So it is a really big grant program that will have for another year. There is a lot of talk in Victoria about developing a watershed security fund, something permanent to fund these kinds of projects, and this is deemed by many as a bridge toward eventually establishing that fund.”
The other funding aspect that caught Warwick Sears’ attention in the budget details was $120 million set aside over five years for a community emergency preparedness fund, accessible to municipal governments and First Nations for flood mapping, mitigation studies and other matters related to infrastructure protection planning.
She said the creation of the new ministry will be welcomed because conflicting interests within the previous forest land natural resource operations and rural development super ministry left it inefficient.
“It was created to help address the conflicting mandates of forestry, water and all the other things included under that ministry but I think it was just too cumbersome in practice. So we will see how this new ministry develops,” she said.
She noted $83 million was also set aside for climate adaptation, which relates to climate monitoring networks, weather station sites and river flow analysis.
“One thing that came out of the floods last November was the BC River Forecast Centre was understaffed so enhancing that resource will help everyone,” she said.
“While it is important to have grant programs in place…we also want to ensure our government is funded adequately to have the government staff in place to do the work only they have the authority to do.”