The Epistle of Q — Chapter 107

There’s hope for our planet yet…

The Okanagan Water Board’s Stewardship Council has interesting presentations at their regular meetings and December’s was no exception. Two individuals from Environment and Climate Change Canada gave valuable insights into the way the world is unfolding. Doug Lundquist is a Meteorologist and David Hutchinson is a Hydrometric Specialist.

Doug Lundquist spoke first. He indicated that his whole professional life is about studying climate or more correctly weather and it is always changing. But he cautioned that it is important not to get into fear-mongering or continually using the term the new normal. He gave the example of the warnings that the smoke we were seeing in 2015 and 2016 was the new normal. Furthermore it was due to climate change. Neither is true. We had pristine conditions re air quality this past summer. Moreover, Samuel Clements (aka Mark Twain) was talking about it being so smokey he couldn’t see across the valley where he lived and this was in the 1800’s. He believes it is not only incorrect, it is unethical to try to scare people with words of climatic doom in part because it keeps us from getting to the real problems of better environmental management.

For him there are some real issues that should be addressed and it all focuses on adaptation. Climate is just a statistic; it’s weather that we deal with every day. Weather actually can kill (climate can’t). Meteorologists are seeing sea ice at the second lowest level ever in the Arctic. But it is not clear how such impacts weather. Nevertheless he did discuss the phenomenon of low pressure flow pattern mega bombs – these moments when there is a dramatic drop in pressure in a very short period, perhaps less than a day. Are these low pressure patterns changing? Perhaps because of changes in the Arctic there is some impact, but there also is considerable uniqueness to each moment. We do need to be more wary; and especially recognize that we are seeing higher tides.

The biggest concern he suggests is the appearance of micro-storms (e.g. 20 mm of rain in 30 minutes). Severe weather will increase and the impacts are uncertain. Are we building our residential and industrial neighbourhoods to standards that will facilitate the quick and efficient removal of such storm water (or snow in season)? An intriguing fact about the Arctic Vortex is that the cold air is actually warmer than in the past. Added to this the Jet Stream is shifting and weakening and so is not holding back the Vortex allowing it to drift south. Another fact: now there are more record highs than record lows – up until the 1980’s this was more in balance. The chances for days of 30C+ are increasing and this may impact fire ignition in the forests and on grasslands.

As for the issue of snow & droughts some problems are emerging. There are already signs the ski seasons may be changing. Moreover snow packs may also shift in the timing of their melting – more water may leave during winter months. How do we adapt to retain more of this water without aggravating potential flooding when spring arrives?

Overall though it is Doug’s recommendation that we accept the changing weather patterns and work hard on the Adaptation to new realities. There are benefits to be had because Canada will gain the most from these new trends, especially in agriculture. We might even be able to grow more palm trees and we certainly will use less heating fuels. It is now possible to track weather and alerts on the Environment Canada app or get free e-mail alerts. To date it has been an early season for snow (in the BC Interior) and there has been a prolonged cold snap. For more precise information/data go to site (there is a blog there too) and/or the Weather Canada app (find it via ECCC’s web-site).

He urges us all to stop the studying, stop the scaring – don’t try fixing what is broken because this can be dangerous.
Just do it –
• reduce foot prints of all kinds
• adapt to changes
• expect the unexpected
• take advantage
• push for more weather monitoring stations

The second part of the presentation was led by David Hutchison and addressed the Hydrometric Program in BC. This is a time of renewal and investment within the national Hydrometric Service. Currently there are 449 monitoring stations in BC (shared: 35% feds, prov 40%, 25% by 3rd parties) and many partnerships collaborate. There are six regional offices: 40 FYE staff, $6.6 million budget (incl office in Vernon). Most discharge monitoring stations cost approximately $15K/annum though the more remote may be as much as $25K/annum.

The biggest problem has been the rather varied support for the work. There has been a decline since the 1970’s although it has stabilized some recently. The good news: plenty of records can be found in the archives. The real problem came in the 1990’s when the Martin & Chretien government tore apart the Inland Waters Directorate and scattered the professionals to other places or released them altogether. Now the infrastructure is being addressed again (repair/rebuild). There is strengthening of the engineering and technical support as well as developing capacity re the predictability of inflows. There is also some decommissioning due to earlier improper management of wells, etc. (especially the use of creosote that remains present).

The exciting news is that there is significant innovation in field techniques. There are now a variety of approaches –
• radar sensors
• satellite-based cameras (controlled by smart phones)
• remote sensing (drones, smart cameras, etc. – there’s even a new hand-held monitoring device)
• remote boats
• machines inserting data in videos to aid in monitoring (dilution solutions)
Very good data systems are provided by Acquarius & CWS

The Hydrometric Service recognizes the need to add to the Okanagan network which presently is inadequate. One possibility is to put more emphasis monitoring the higher elevation reservoirs – there is currently a lack of information re higher elevation weather impacts. There is now an easier way to do this than focusing on frequent stream monitoring (using aerial surveillance and calculating the capacity of a lake or reservoir, by monitoring the outflow, annual data compilations can be compared giving an accurate picture of the inflow from all sources). The greater use of robotics the better the data but it is not necessarily cheaper. Boots on the ground still are required and especially for more immediate issues, the fly in costs actually go up.

So what all did I learn from these two learned folk?

  • First and foremost, let’s keep our eye on the weather, and let us become more proactive in how we deal with it.
  • Secondly let’s quit trying to scare people into shutting down their lives, and instead lead the charge for new energies investing in adaptation.
  • Thirdly we need to ramp up our commitment to research in all aspects of water resources but particularly how we understand and manage the precipitation that falls in the upper elevations.
  • And in everything let’s adopt an attitude of HOPE OVER FEAR, of dynamic solutions over reactive problems. The world is not coming to an end, but it does require us to saddle up and get to the next level of innovation. And let this be the focus of the Okanagan and its Water Board in the celebrations of 2020.