Water can be a great glue – joining people together to help keep it clean and plentiful. The matter comes down to building relationships and understanding, so that when the going gets tough – as with this year’s western drought – we can pull together.
With all that in mind, it’s a good feeling to hold an international water conference this year in the small, friendly community of Osoyoos, British Columbia, where the town motto is “Canada’s warmest welcome.” Osoyoos is famous for fruit orchards, excellent wine, and the big blue Osoyoos Lake, set in Canada’s only desert. Just to the south is the U.S. city of Oroville, Washington, situated on the lake’s southern basin.
Osoyoos and Oroville share citizenship of the Okanagan/Okanogan watershed – despite the Canadian/American difference in spelling. It’s because of the lake that we are gathering, for the third time in eight years, to hold the Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum from Oct. 7-9 – a joint Canada-U.S. event to discuss how to better preserve, protect and manage this beautiful water body and its environment.
Osoyoos Lake straddles the border, and as a result is under the IJC’s jurisdiction via the Boundary Waters Treaty. The IJC’s International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control is responsible for overseeing the execution of the Operating Orders of Zosel Dam, owned by the state of Washington, to control lake levels. While the scope of the orders is relatively narrow, local communities have shared interests that are wide and deep. The forum is an opportunity for locals, including First Nations, along with scientists, decision makers, and stakeholders to gather, raise concerns, and share ideas on how to shape their water future, together. The IJC is one of the forum’s sponsors.
The title of this year’s event broadcasts the international partnership: “A Watershed Beyond Boundaries: Stewardship of our Shared Waters.” Over two and a half days, attendees from British Columbia and Washington will meet and eat, listen to presentations and have lively conversations about the most pressing issues affecting the lake and the surrounding watershed.
This watershed is the natal home to more than 90 percent of the Columbia River’s sockeye salmon, and the restoration and management of these stocks looms large on the agenda. People also are keenly interested in the severe, region-wide drought, and we’ll hear about different approaches and similar struggles with management in Canada and the U.S.
There will be a mix of science and stewardship, government actions and community collaborations. But most importantly, we’ll be learning from each other and building friendships to help us work together on water problems and solutions in times to come.
The forum has been organized in every way possible to highlight the interconnectedness of the system, and the importance of place. Everyone is invited, from school groups to senior scientists, elected officials, First Nations, and Canadian and U.S. IJC commissioners. Contributions from local businesses and all levels of government have helped keep registration costs low. Ultimately, the long-term health and sustainability of Osoyoos Lake and the Okanagan watershed depends on the health and sustainability of partnerships – beyond borders, social groups, age, and boundaries of all kinds.
For more information on the 2015 forum, links to previous forums, and to register, visit www.obwb.ca/olwsf.