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Local experts call for more West Kootenay data to adapt to climate change

Two new web-based tools for water and climate data have been created
Kootenay Lake is seen here from Pilot Bay. Experts say the West Kootenay needs more climate change data. Photo: Kelsey Yates

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

A mountain of data will be needed to get the full picture of climate change impacts on the West Kootenay ecosystem, say planners, scientists, and members of the region’s environmental community.

To draw attention to two web-based tools for water and climate data in the Columbia Basin, Nelson-based non-governmental organization Living Lakes Canada brought together a panel of local experts on Oct. 12.

“The idea is that we don’t have enough data on our watersheds in the Columbia Basin to make informed decisions about how to react to climate change,” said Nicole Trigg, communications director for Living Lakes Canada. “This was a great opening conversation on a very important topic.”

The first tool developed for the region was the Columbia Basin Climate Source, run by Selkirk College’s Selkirk Innovates in partnership with the Columbia Basin Trust. Introduced in 2019, it brings together information about climate science, local actions and local impacts, and provides nifty tools to see what will happen to the region in different climate scenarios.

The site also includes individual community profiles, with information about what a low- or high-carbon future could look like in specific areas. For example, in the Village of Slocan, the analysis shows that by the mid 2050s, there could be up to 60 days per year with temperatures above 25 C. For perspective, during the mid-20th century, there were 18 days per year on average with temperatures above 25 C.

The other online tool is the Columbia Basin Water Hub. Water-based data is not a focus of the Climate Source, so Living Lakes Canada spearheaded a multi-year effort to create the Water Hub. Online since 2021, the Water Hub is a central place to store water monitoring information from a variety of sources, such as the Slocan River Streamkeepers and the McDonald Creek hydrometric station.

Data is being collected by both professional researchers and the public through citizen science for the two web-based tools.

The panel discussion brought together Herb Hammond, a forest ecologist known for his ecosystem-based conservation plans; Mark Thomas, Salmon Chief and councillor from the Shuswap Band; Paris Marshall Smith, the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s sustainability planner; and John Cathro, a resource-use expert with degrees in land use and forestry.

“We wanted each panelist to have a different perspective, bring in a different lens,” said Trigg.

Panelists highlighted the climate change impacts they are seeing in the region, and they all stressed the importance of ensuring data collected is relevant and useful.

“I’m looking out my window at what’s left of the Little Slocan River. And by what’s left of the Little Slocan River, I mean the effects of drought and the effects of 70 years of clearcut logging in the watershed,” Hammond said. “So we need to change that relationship with water if we’re going to survive and adapt to climate change, and I think that the data and the climate framework we’re talking about are a good start to that.”

Thomas focused his remarks on the decrease in salmon numbers and the effect this can have on First Nations’ cultural values. “It’s been saddening to see thousands upon thousands of fish not making their way to their natal grounds and succumbing to the lack of water,” Thomas said. “When climate change shows its face as it did this year, all of these things are unravelled.”

Marshall Smith spoke of the need for good, reliable data for local governments to make decisions on issues such as dwelling density on Agricultural Land Reserve land. Smith also highlighted the importance of determining and tracking the quality of drinking water sources.

Cathro spoke about how fragile local watersheds and infrastructure are to fires and floods, using Kaslo as an example. Twenty per cent of Kaslo’s watershed in Kemp Creek was destroyed in a wildfire in 2007. Since then, the water intake was destroyed twice in floods and debris torrents, resulting from loss of vegetation.

“It’s pretty clear that if we don’t address watershed restoration, simply replacing the plumbing is not going to do much,” he said.

Trigg noted how the panel discussion illustrated the need for continued collaboration to help researchers get a better handle on the impacts of climate change, mentioning other ongoing projects Living Lakes is pursuing to address these issues.

“The combined perspective of the panel points to the necessity of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework project,” Trigg said, “which is expanding water monitoring across the Basin to fill data gaps so we can better understand climate impacts to water supply.”

One of the areas chosen to be a pilot monitoring zone for that project includes the Slocan Valley. Trigg said more information about these efforts will be released in the coming weeks.