Kelowna city councillor Tracy Gray has been elected as the new chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.
Gray, a director on the OBWB for two years, replaces West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, who chaired the board for the past three years.
Serving as vice-chair will be Vernon municipal councillor Juliette Cunningham, who was nominated to run for chair but declined due to her other time commitments to council and as vice-chair of the North Okanagan Regional District.
Gray called stepping up to become the OBWB board chair an absolute honour.
“I feel privileged to be given this opportunity to chair such an incredible organization rooted with lots of history in our region and which has done great work over the years,” Gray said.
“Water quality and water quantity are issues that are important to all of us.”
Gray reiterated the need to continue pressing the federal and provincial governments for consistent funding support to prevent invasive adult zebra and quagga mussels from reaching B.C. lakes.
“It will cost $40 million a year to manage invasive mussels in the Okanagan Valley, and that’s not eradicating them, just to deal with them. It’s imperative we do whatever we can now to mitigate against that happening,” Gray said.
In December, Findlater sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and various Liberal cabinet ministers expressing deep concern that not enough preventative action is being taken to prevent the spreading of invasive mussels within the Pacific Northwest.
Findlater received a response last week from Shereen Miller, assistant deputy minister with the ministry of innovation, science and Economic Development Canada, saying more than 20 federal departments and agencies are working on the invasive zebra and quagga mussel issue.
“I note you have addressed your letter to the ministers responsible for Fisheries and Oceans and for the Canada Border Services Agency, and I trust that they will give your Board’s concerns every due consideration,” stated the letter.
Despite the dismissive nature of the letter from Ottawa, Gray said government support will continue to be a focus moving forward, especially now with the provincial budget and an upcoming provincial election coming this spring. “We need to have ongoing funding and a plan to follow, so we need to keep up the pressure,” Gray said.
“This isn’t something a municipality or regional district can deal with on their own.”
Speaking at the OBWB meeting on Tuesday in Kelowna, Findlater noted that the provincial government is very sensitive to criticism about inaction on this issue.
“They know very well that if an (invasive mussel) problem shows up in a B.C. lake, the finger of responsibility will be pointed at them and they know that,” he said.
The OBWB has forward recommendations to step up the invasive mussel inspection program, including a call for adequate monitoring resources to have all boats entering the province be inspected before being allowed access to a provincial lake.