Convening for Action Initiative Launched at Okanagan Conference on the Future for Water


"In a fully integrated landscape, water is the unifying element."  - Patrick Lucey, Nature's Revenue Streams, January 2005

“In a fully integrated landscape, water is the unifying element.”  – Patrick Lucey, Nature’s Revenue Streams, January 2005

Water Balance Way-of-Thinking Championed by Water Sustainability Committee

The Okanagan Conference organized by the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA) in February 2005 was the kick-off event for a sustained education process that is designed to broaden the province-wide base for this shared vision: In a fully integrated landscape, water is the unifying element. Of all the resources that bring prosperity to British Columbia, one is more important than the rest combined – water. Without exception, resource industries are water-dependent. Water is the life-blood of the provincial economy.

Hosted by the City of Kelowna, the CWRA Conference was designed to be a transformational event that would be the catalyst for change. The call for action was spelled out in the conference theme: “Water – Our Limiting Resource” – Towards Sustainable Water Management in the Okanagan.


Conference Overview

Brian-Guy_120pAccording to Brian Guy, Conference Chair, “The water resources of the Okanagan will be totally allocated in less than 25 years. To move toward sustainable water management in the Okanagan Basin requires difficult decisions now that will include reducing demand, new governance models that consider the basin as a whole, and more proactive management.” The conference was structured in three distinct parts:

  • Day One: Featured papers that were received in response to a Call for Papers on the theme of water management in the Okanagan Basin.
  • Day Two: A status report on the 1974 Okanagan Basin Study set the stage for a series of invited presentations on the current situation.
  • Day Three: The focus was on finding short-term and long-term solutions to the water management crisis that are both pragmatic and implementable. This included a plenary workshop that produced a set of recommendations that were subsequently submitted to the Premier.

Convening for Action

In the spirit of inter-association collaboration, the Water Sustainability Committee of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA) provided the core content for Day Three. This comprised two companion papers:

Read together, these two papers articulate the philosophy that underpins and is guiding the Convening for Action (CFA) initiative. The two papers are cross-referenced and the conference presentations were dovetailed.


Build a Vision, Create a Legacy

The Changing Paradigms paper provided the big picture and explained the concept of a water management continuum: from the supply-side, through the demand-side to the soft path. Moving beyond simply doing the same with less water, the ‘soft path’ seeks to build resiliency.

The Water Balance Management paper built on the first paper by laying out the concept for a water balance area and introducing the equation presented below to guide the integration of water management with land development.

Water is the unifying element for growth management in the Okanagan. The ‘big picture’ is distilled down to a set of succinct bullets as presented below to focus on what is most important.





Water is vital to British Columbia’s long-term prosperity – it is the foundation of our economy and growing communities, and is essential for a healthy environment.  Despite its critical importance, water is undervalued and often wasted.  People perceive it to be an abundant and virtually limitless resource.  This myth of abundance is entrenched even in water-stressed areas such as the Okanagan, where drinking water supplies are at risk, conflicts among water users are common, economic opportunities are threatened, and aquatic ecosystem health and fisheries are declining.  Population growth, coupled with the uncertain, yet increasingly evident impacts of climate change, will only increase these challenges in the future.

2005_CWRA_Kelowna-Conference_Oliver&Lynn_Amy Vickers quote

Water conservation and demand management are critical components in a lasting long-term and sustainable approach.  Demand management offers a genuine win-win solution, as communities can reap both environmental and economic dividends from reducing water use.

To demonstrate that conservation is the next best source of ‘new’ water in regions where supply is limited, this paper outlines leading national and international demand management approaches.  Included in this discussion are some of the critical factors for success, such as setting meaningful targets and promoting early adopters and innovative solutions.

The success of demand management in the Okanagan requires both the involvement of water users and the use of strategic planning to provide the appropriate mix and timing of measures for the region.  Addressing this complexity and overcoming the barriers that limit the adoption of demand management are critically important.  Beyond this, the paper provides a blue print for dialogue and change by outlining a soft path water management approach for the Okanagan basin.

This paper demonstrates the need for people with diverse skills and expertise from across the region to animate the debate and create a shared Okanagan vision.  Ensuring lasting solutions requires changes in beliefs, attitudes and opinions about water and draws on innovative tools and best practices from elsewhere to create a basin-wide, comprehensive and integrated ‘made-in-the-Okanagan’ approach.

To Learn More:

To view the PowerPoint presentation, click on “Changing Perspectives – Changing Paradigms: Demand management strategies and innovative solutions for a sustainable Okanagan water future”

2005_CWRA_Kelowna-Conference_Oliver&Lynn_changing paradigms




The paper focuses on the Okanagan Basin as a ‘water balance area’. Two success stories are presented to elaborate on what can be accomplished by promoting the water balance theme as a way of integrating water management with landscape development:

  • Demand Management of Irrigation District Water Supplies in the Okanagan Valley– Initiated in 1988 and completed in 1990, this initiative was comprehensive in assessing the potential for domestic and irrigation water conservation. It was also the trigger for a change in philosophy that resulted in implementation of new approaches and tools.
  • Water Balance Model for British Columbia – This decision support and scenario modelling tool is changing the way people think about the relationship between the built and natural environments, and the way we develop the urban landscape.
The 1990 report examined the combination of universal meterng plus irrigation system changes. Most of the potential saving is in the agricultural sector.

The 1990 report examined the combination of universal meterng plus irrigation system changes. Most of the potential saving is in the agricultural sector.

What, So What, Now What

In the Okanagan, approximately 70 percent of water use is for agricultural purposes. Given the sheer magnitude of the agricultural component of the ‘Okanagan Water Balance’, one of the purposes of the paper is to provide an historical bridge from the 1988 initiative to the present that addresses these three questions:

  1. What is our starting point?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How will we get there?

The paper suggests expanding the application of the Water Balance Model approach to all land uses in the Okanagan, and in particular agriculture. In the urban environment, the main focus is on the individual development site because what we do at the site scale can create opportunities for cumulative benefits over time. In applying the water balance philosophy to the Okanagan in its entirety, the proposed paradigm would be: “the Basin is the site”.   This would consider rainfall and infiltration as well as water used for growing and processing various agricultural products in relation to water sources.  Ultimately it would both pose and suggest answers to the question: How much of the basin’s water needs will have to be found through improved practices to ensure  the ongoing vitality of its  communities? 

The paper also introduced the What, So What, Now What mindmap for moving from talk to action. This is explained below.

How We Will Get from Here to There

The goal is three-pronged in providing security – for the Okanagan situation, this means a sustainable supply of water; certainty regarding how security will be provided (e.g. water rights, demand management strategies, etc.) and a focus on overall well-being (e.g. livability and protection of the natural landscape).

The application of this process is intended to address needs at the challenge level, before they escalate to problems, issues and crises (or even chaos).



Process: The process starts at the lower left hand corner of the larger aggregate triangle and proceeds to its apex and then down the right side and along the bottom.  It addresses three questions and then uses the answers to these to establish and engage in an adaptive management approach which in turn will generate ongoing knowledge to address changing needs.

  1. What are the conditions that create the need for change?  This involves generating and transferring knowledge that systematically addresses causal links.
  2. So what are the options and what is the best choice?  This involves looking for practical opportunities and overcoming barriers.
  3. Now what are the strategies and actions that will provide the security, certainty and well-being needed for sustainable outcomes?  This involves defining outcomes and making commitments to achieve these.

Adaptive Management: The final step involves monitoring performance of the action plans.  The actions taken will lead to new conditions.  Other influences will have changed conditions too.  These changes – and knowledge about them – may result in the need to revisit the three overarching questions and go through the process again.

Turning Points: A further point about the choice of a triangular diagram to illustrate this process, rather than a circular or Venn diagram:  making choices to go through this whole process requires turning points.   At each corner a commitment must be made to proceed to the next step.

To Learn More:

To view the PowerPoint presentation, click on “Water Balance Management in the Okanagan: Now What Do We Do?”