Water going to waste

Okanagan must do more to protect the future of its water supply

Few stop to consider the ramifications of intensive agriculture in the Okanagan or the effect of the combined output of six wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) pouring into Okanagan Lake — one of our main drinking and irrigation sources. The bottom line is that we’re seriously mistreating our local water supply.

WWTPs are efficient for biological nutrient removal, secondary clarification, filtration and ultraviolet disinfection, but are unable to remove pharmaceuticals or chemicals from wastewater. Over 50 billion litres of ‘treated water’ enter Okanagan Lake from upstream communities each year.

Remnants of nearly every human ingestible item on retail shelves end up in our WWTP output. These products are either dumped directly down drains or pass through the body unmetabolized (antibiotics, anti-depressants, birth control pills, cancer treatments, pain killers, seizure medications). All of these have been detected in sampled WWTP output worldwide (citations below).

Some solutions include:

Shopping wisely: ‘Eco’ alternatives for nearly every household product exit in the marketplace, use them.

Local government should focus on providing additional alpine water supplies for public consumption, as opposed to valley bottom sources. The opposite of what is currently being pursued.

Municipal projects should focus on xeriscaping, as opposed to turf projects irrigated by WWTP effluent. The Skaha park expansion for example.

Orchardists must embrace organic growing methods. Covert Farms is an excellent example of large-scale organics done right. Human health aside, marketing the Okanagan as ‘The World Capital of Organic Agriculture’ has a nice ring to it.

In light of a U.S. Geological Survey study (http://on.doi.gov/6SgKBO), Okanagan cities should rethink the current practice of providing dried WWTP product for landscape and gardening bedding. Additionally, the process of irrigating recreational fields with reclaimed wastewater should be re-examined, as per USGS study (http://bit.ly/z5W0sw).

Andrew Drouin