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Technical Thematic Report No. 11. - Western Interior Basin Ecozone+ Evidence for key findings summary

Theme: Biomes

Key finding 1
Forests

Theme Biomes

National key finding
At a national level, the extent of forests has changed little since 1990; at a regional level, loss of forest extent is significant in some places. The structure of some Canadian forests, including species composition, age classes, and size of intact patches of forest, has changed over longer time frames.

Forests cover 73% of the ecozone+. Footnote 12 Forests of the WIBE are classified into eight biogeoclimatic zones. Footnote 13 The Interior Douglas-fir, Montane Spruce, and Engelmann Spruce-–Subalpine Fir zones –in that order of extent–comprised 84% of the total forested area in 2005 (Figure 5). The Ponderosa Pine zone covers 5% of the WIBE. This zone, along with the Bunchgrass zone, occupies lower elevations where land use is most intense and where habitat occurs for many species at risk. The WIBE includes three of the four zones identified in 2008 as areas of greatest conservation concern in BC (Bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine, and the xeric site series of the Interior Douglas-fir zones). Footnote 14

Figure 5. Biogeoclimatic zones of the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+, 2008. Biogeoclimatic zones that make up < 1% of the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+ are not shown.
Source: data from Hectares BC, 2009 Footnote 13

v

Long Description for Figure 5

This pie chart shows the eight biogeoclimatic zones that make up > 1% of the WIBE. These are: Bunchgrass (3%), Coastal Western Hemlock (1%), Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (21%), Interior Cedar-Hemlock (3%), Interior Douglas-fir (41%), Interior Mountain-heather Alpine (4%), Montane Spruce (22%), and Ponderosa Pine (5%).

 

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An analysis of forest density using remote sensing showed that in 2005 almost half of 1 km2 cells within the WIBE were more than 80% forested. Footnote 12. Twenty-two percent of the WIBE area is covered by intact forest landscape fragments larger than 100 km2 (Figure 6). A landscape fragment is defined as a contiguous mosaic, naturally occurring and essentially undisturbed by significant human influence. It is a mosaic of various natural ecosystems including forest, bog, water, tundra, and rock outcrops. These intact fragments are primarily located in the mountainous western part of the ecozone+.

Figure 6. Intact forest landscape fragments larger than 100 km2 in the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+, 2006.
Source: Lee et al., 2006 Footnote 15

Intact forest landscape

Long Description for Figure 6

This map shows that 22% percent of the WIBE area was covered by intact forest landscape fragments larger than 100 km2 in 2005. These intact fragments were primarily located in the mountainous western part of the ecozone+.

 

Approximately one-third of the forests in the WIBE are younger than 100 years, another one-third are 101–140 years old, and the remaining one-third are older than 140 years (Figure 7). Footnote 16

Figure 7. Forest age class distribution in the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+, 2008.
Source: data from Hectares BC, 2009 Footnote 13

Forest age class distribution

Long Description for Figure 7

This pie chart shows the proportion of forest age classes: less than one year (>1%); 1-20 years (2%); 21-40 years (4%); 41-60 years (3%); 61-80 years (9%); 81-100 years (11%); 101-120 years (17%); 121-140 years (17%); 141-250 years (32%); more than250 years (4%).

 

Forest harvest

The WIBE contains about 860 million m3 of wood in commercially harvested species. Footnote 13 The 2008 annual allowable harvest in the WIBE was approximately 7.3 million m3 (3.3 million m3 in the Okanagan-Shuswap Forest District and 4 million m3 in the Kamloops Forest District). Footnote 17

Commercial harvest and planting have changed the tree composition of forests. The BC Ministry of Forests analyzed the change in forest composition in monocultures or mixed stands of conifers and deciduous trees. The report provides a comparison of the proportion of one tree species dominated stands (monocultures) and mixed tree species stands by addressing their species composition before and after harvest. There was no analysis of the variety of tree species present. The analysis distinguished, for example, whether a ponderosa pine-dominant stand had changed to a Douglas-fir-dominant stand, but it did not show a change in status for a spruce–pine stand that was converted to a nearly pure pine stand. Footnote 18

The report also separated stands before and after harvest under pre-1987, 1987–1995, and 1995–2004 policy regimes. Prior to 1987, primary silvicultural obligation belonged to the provincial government. From 1987 to 1995, obligations fell to licensees. The years 1995 to 2004 coincide with the implementation of the Forest Practices Code and the Forest and Range Practices Act. Reforestation obligations commence at the time of harvest and end when the reforested stand of trees is declared "free growing." Free growing obligations can be met either naturally (natural regeneration) or artificially (planting). Footnote 18

Overall, forest stands with a single tree species (monoculture) declined in areas without timber harvest but increased in harvested areas. Approximately 39% of the non-harvested forest land base was monoculture prior to 1987. From 1987 to 2004, monocultures declined by 9%. However, the amount of monoculture at free growing has increased by about 9% post-1987, since licensees and BC Timber Sales had the primary silvicultural obligation (Figure 8). For deciduous stands at the free growing stage, the amount of mixed stands increased from 12 km2before harvest to 373 km2 after harvest.

Figure 8. Change in area of monocultures before and after 1987. Western Interior Basin Ecozone+ boundary is approximate.
Source: BC Ministry of Forests and Range, 2010. Footnote 19

Change in area of monocultures

Long Description for Figure 8

This figure shows two maps of British Columbia with polygons coloured according to the rate of change in area of monocultures. The first map shows areas harvested up to 1987. Most areas within the WIBE had a 6% decrease in monoculture with a small section in the southwest experiencing a 1-5% increase and a small area in the southeast experiencing no change. The second map shows areas harvested after 1987 where most of the area experienced a 6% increase in monoculture except for about 20% concentrated on the east side that experienced a 1-5% increase.

 

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Habitat loss

The extent of lower elevation forests declined from 1800 to 2005. An analysis of aerial photographs of the Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys from 1800, 1938, and 2005 illustrated losses of 27% for Douglas-fir–pinegrass gentle slope forest ecosystems (Figure 9) and 53% for ponderosa pine–bluebunch wheatgrass gentle slope forest ecosystems (Figure 10). Footnote 20

Additional information about changes in forested ecosystems is in the Ecosystem conversion section on page 40 and in the Natural disturbance section on page 79.

Figure 9. Change in the Douglas-fir-pinegrass gentle slope forest ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

Change in the Douglas-fir-pinegrass gentle slope forest ecosystem

Long Description for Figure 9

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation forests in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 27% of the Douglas-fir–pinegrass gentle slope forest ecosystem was lost, particularly from north of Vernon.

Figure 10. Change in the ponderosa pine–bluebunch wheatgrass gentle slope forest ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

Change in the ponderosa pine–bluebunch wheatgrass

Long Description for Figure 10

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation forests in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 53% of the ponderosa pine–bluebunch wheatgrass gentle slope forest ecosystem was lost, particularly from around Kelowna.

 

Key finding 2
Grasslands

Theme Biomes

National key finding
Native grasslands have been reduced to a fraction of their original extent. Although at a slower pace, declines continue in some areas. The health of many existing grasslands has also been compromised by a variety of stressors.

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Native grasslands comprised 2% of the WIBE in 2005. These grasslands are the northernmost extension of the Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass type, Footnote 21 also described as the Great Basin Sagebrush Desert Biome. Footnote 22These grasslands are unique in Canada because they are dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoreogneria spicata), a species that rarely occurs east of the Rocky Mountains, and because they are differentiated from grasslands in Washington and Oregon due to a higher proportion of boreal species in their plant and animal communities. Footnote 23 Footnote 24

BC's grasslands are one of Canada's most endangered ecosystems. Footnote 23, Footnote 25, Footnote 26, Footnote 27, Footnote 28. Low-elevation grassland communities are the rarest land cover type in BC and are concentrated in three of BC's four biogeoclimatic zones of conservation concern (Interior Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Bunchgrass). Footnote 14 Grasslands provide habitat for species at risk and contribute disproportionately to biodiversity. Footnote 25, Footnote 26 For example, over 30% of BC's species at risk including American badgers (Taxidea taxus jeffersonii), burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus), western rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus), and long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus) live in the grasslands of the WIBE. Footnote 29 Over 40% of BC's vascular plant flora are found in grasslands Footnote 27 even though grasslands cover less than 1% of BC. Footnote 27

Habitat loss

Since 1850, 1,188 km2 (16%) of the WIBE's grasslands have been converted to agriculture, high-density urban development, and low-density development (Figure 11). Footnote 27, Footnote 30 Although grasslands continue to be lost in some areas, most of the loss (15%, or 1,114 km2) occurred before 1990 (Figure 12). The greatest losses prior to 1990 occurred in the Northern Okanagan Basin Ecosection, with 48% of its grasslands lost, and in the Southern Okanagan Highland Ecosection, with 39% lost (Figure 12). Footnote 31

Figure 11. Distribution of historic and current (2004) grasslands in the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+.
.Source: updated from the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia, 2004. Footnote 31

Distribution of historic and current (2004) grasslands

Long Description for Figure 11

The main map shows the extent of grasslands concentrated along the main river systems in the WIBE. Historically there were more grasslands around Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton. An inset map shows the grassland regions for all of BC. The largest concentration is in the WIBE and north of the WIBE. There are also grasslands in the northeast and furthest east in the province.

Figure 12. Amount of grassland from the mid-1800s to 2005 in the BC southern interior by ecosection.
Source: BC Ministry of Environment, 2007a Footnote 30; modified from data produced by the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia, 2004, 2007. Footnote 29, Footnote 31 This information is provided by the Province of BC under the Open Government License for Government of BC Information v.BC1.0.

Amount of grassland from the mid-1800s to 2005

Long Description for Figure 12

This horizontal stacked bar chart shows the following information:

Data for figure 12
EcosectionGrasslands
lost mid 1800s
- 1990 (km2)
Grasslands
lost 1990 -
2005 (km2)
Remaining
Grasslands
(2005) (km2)
Southern Thompson Upland143.501323
Pavilion Ranges330366.8
Thompson Basin23218.21002.2
Okanagan Range25.40206.6
Southern Okanagan Highland77.90125
Northern Okanagan Basin329.217380.6
Southern Okanagan Basin69.113.7320.5

 

From 1800 to 2005 in the Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys, the antelope-brush–needle-and-thread grass shrub-steppe ecosystem declined by 68% (Figure 13), the big sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystem declined by 33% (Figure 14), and the Idaho fescue–bluebunch wheatgrass grassland ecosystem declined by 77% (Figure 15). Footnote 20 Footnote 32 The loss of these ecosystems was mainly due to development at lower elevations. Footnote 20 These three ecosystems are presently in early seral stages and invaded by non-native species due to decades of intensive livestock grazing. Footnote 20 Further, many of the richest soils have been cultivated, Footnote 33 Footnote 34 leaving remaining grasslands on less productive soils.

Grasslands in the WIBE are at risk in and outside of protected areas. Grasslands outside of protected areas could be converted to agricultural, commercial, and residential uses. In 2004, 40% of grasslands were in private holdings whereas only 8% of grasslands were in protected areas. Footnote 30 The extent of grasslands, whether protected or not, can also be reduced by the alteration of natural disturbance regimes. For example, the suppression of wildfires in the Ponderosa Pine biogeoclimatic zone allowed forests to encroach into grasslands. Footnote 35 Footnote 36 Footnote 37 Footnote 38 About 90% of all BC's grasslands are grazed by domestic livestock, degrading the ecosystems and facilitating the spread of invasive plants. Footnote 31 In a study of 17 grazed grassland sites in the Southern Interior, non-native plants covered 35% of the sites with some sites having 85% coverage of non-native species. Footnote 39 Increasing pressure from recreational activities, such as disturbances from off-road vehicles and conversion to golf courses, also threaten grasslands. Footnote 31Additional information can be found in the Invasive non-native species section on page 44 and the Natural disturbance section on page 79.

Figure 13. Change in the antelope-brush–needle-and-thread grass shrub-steppe ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

map

Long Description for Figure 13

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation grasslands in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 68% of the antelope-brush–needle-and-thread grass shrub-steppe ecosystem was lost throughout its range from Kelowna to Osoyoos.

Figure 14. Change in the big sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

map

Long Description for Figure 14

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation grasslands in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 33% of the big sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystem was lost, particularly around Kelowna, Penticton, and west of Osoyoos.

Figure 15. Change in the Idaho fescue bluebunch wheatgrass grassland ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

map

Long Description for Figure 15

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation grasslands in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 27% of the Idaho fescue bluebunch wheatgrass grassland ecosystem was lost throughout its range from Vernon to Kelowna.

 

Key finding 3
Wetlands

Theme Biomes

National key finding
High loss of wetlands has occurred in southern Canada; loss and degradation continue due to a wide range of stressors. Some wetlands have been or are being restored.

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Wetlands occupy a small portion (<1%) of the WIBE due to the region's climate, soil, and topographic features. Footnote 40 Footnote 41 Nevertheless, they play a crucial ecological role particularly because wetlands in arid areas support more species than other ecosystems. Footnote 40 Footnote 42 Wetlands of the WIBE support many species at risk such as Wallis' dark saltflat tiger beetles (Cicindela parowana wallisi), Great Basin spadefoots (Spea intermontana), short-rayed alkali asters (Symphyotrichum frondosum), and small-flowered lipocarphas (Lipocarpha micrantha). Footnote 43

Most wetlands in this area are located in valley bottoms where development is also concentrated and 85% of wetlands have been lost since European settlement--mainly due to conversion to agriculture and more recently for urban development. Footnote 44 Footnote 20 In 1800, the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys had 178 km2 of wetlands, by 1938 the area had decreased to 69 km2, and by 2005 there were fewer than 30 km2 remaining. Footnote 20

The loss among different wetland communities in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys has varied. For example, from 1800 to 2005, shrubby water birch–red-osier dogwood riparian wetlands declined by 92% (Figure 16), black cottonwood–red-osier dogwood riparian floodplain by 63% (Figure 17), and cattail marshes by 41%. Footnote 20 Wetlands continue to be lost and degraded by urbanization, intensive agriculture, and, in some areas, heavy recreational use. Footnote 20 Footnote 45 Footnote 46 In addition, invasive species and climate change pose serious threats. Footnote 47

Additional information can be found in the Ecosystem conversion section on page 40 and the Invasive non-native species section on page 44.

Figure 16. Change in the water birch–red-osier dogwood riparian shrub swamp wetland ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

map

Long Description for Figure 16

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation wetlands in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 92% of the water birch–red-osier dogwood riparian shrub swamp wetland ecosystem was lost.

Figure 17. Change in the black cottonwood–red-osier dogwood riparian wetland ecosystem in 1800, 1938, and 2005.
Source: Lea, 2008. Footnote 20

map

Long Description for Figure 17

Three maps show the extent of lower elevation wetlands in 1800, 1938, and 2005 around Lake Okanagan from north of Vernon to Osoyoos. From 1800 to 2005, 63% of the black cottonwood–red-osier dogwood riparian wetland ecosystem was lost.

 

Key finding 4
Lakes and rivers

Theme Biomes

National key finding
Trends over the past 40 years influencing biodiversity in lakes and rivers include seasonal changes in magnitude of stream flows, increases in river and lake temperatures, decreases in lake levels, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

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Approximately 2% of the WIBE area is covered by lakes, rivers, and streams. Footnote 13 These support diverse aquatic communities including species at risk such as chiselmouth fish (Acrocheilus alutaceus) and Rocky Mountain ridged mussels (Gonidea angulata). Anadromous salmon migrate to parts of the Okanagan Basin and the Thompson Basin; the Adams River is also an important breeding area for sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka).

Large lakes

The Thompson Basin contains Kamloops and Nicola lakes as well as portions of Shuswap and Adams lakes. The Thompson River forms at the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers and flows to the Fraser River. West of Lillooet and draining to the Fraser River are the Downton Lake and Carpenter Lake reservoirs and the Anderson Lake and Seton Lake reservoirs. A portion of the Fraser River mainstem is captured in the WIBE.

The WIBE also contains a chain of lakes along the Okanagan Valley floor that flow via the Okanagan/Okanogan River (Canadian and U.S. spellings, respectively) into the Columbia River in Washington State. Wood and Kalamalka lakes drain into Okanagan Lake, the largest in the series, and then Skaha, Vaseux, and Osoyoos lakes. Osoyoos Lake straddles the Canada–U.S. border.

Annual net inflow to Okanagan Lake is variable (Figure 18) and influences water levels (Figure 19), which affect the annual availability of spawning habitat for the shore-spawning variant of kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka kennerlyi Footnote 48 The loss of tributary streams and the establishment of mysis shrimp (Mysis diluviana, formerly M. relicta), an invasive non-native species, also reduced populations of kokanee. More information about mysis shrimp can be found in the Invasive non-native species section on page 44 and the Food webs section on page 85.

Figure 18. Annual net inflow volume for Okanagan Lake, 1921–2011.
Source: BC River Forecast Centre, 2011 Footnote 49

Annual net inflow volume

Long Description for Figure 18

This bar chart shows the following information:

Inflow volume (millions m3)

This bar chart shows the following information:

Note: The average volume from 1981 to 2010 is marked on the figure (535 million m3).

Inflow volume (millions m3)
YearLevel (m)
1921421
1922361
1923500
1924157
1925303
1926144
1927488
1928800
192978
1930106
193188
1932443
1933616
1934557
1935630
1936444
1937445
1938361
1939235
1940187
1941397
1942557
1943241
1944286
1945506
1946693
1947261
1948934
1949537
1950589
1951717
1952534
1953419
1954701
1955535
1956662
1957495
1958451
1959782
1960399
1961358
1962340
1963256
1964586
1965488
1966239
1967310
1968492
1969506
1970130
1971533
1972943
1973182
1974861
1975549
1976702
1977182
1978593
1979234
1980333
1981608
1982834
1983988
1984713
1985292
1986595
1987188
1988224
1989400
1990673
1991639
1992154
1993669
1994398
1995614
1996996
19971401
1998595
1999839
2000580
2001247
2002492
2003124
2004440
2005489
2006586
2007350
2008365
2009140
2010424
2011602

 

 

Figure 19. Annual peak water level for Okanagan Lake, measured at Kelowna from 1944 to 2011.
Source: Environment Canada, 2009 Footnote 50

Annual peak water level

Long Description for Figure 19

This line graph illustrates the following:

Data for figure 19
YearLevel (m)
19441.783
19452.164
19462.548
19471.82
19482.838
1949-
19502.201
19512.515
19522.231
19532.262
19542.335
19552.182
19562.347
19572.216
19582.067
19592.14
19602.094
19612.054
19621.622
19631.667
19642.06
19652.091
19661.774
19671.832
19682.201
19692.161
19701.756
19712.167
19722.515
19731.847
19742.338
19752.176
19762.231
19772.106
19782.149
19792.042
19802.188
19812.274
19822.336
19832.209
19842.307
19852.111
19862.174
19872.099
19881.86
19892.23
19902.646
19912.193
19921.723
19932.237
19942.186
19952.119
19962.392
19972.617
19982.209
19992.186
20002.191
20011.984
20022.216
20031.855
20042.007
20052.291
20062.266
20072.007
20082.238
20091.814
20102.238
20112.369

 

From the mid-1970s to 2001, nutrient levels in Skaha and Osoyoos lakes (measured as total phosphorus concentration in spring) declined by 52% and 40% respectively. Footnote 51These reductions are attributed to the implementation of sewage treatment plants and reduced nutrient inputs from agricultural sources. Nutrient reductions reduced the amount of phytoplankton and increased the concentration of oxygen in the lower (hypolimnetic) layer of these lakes, which benefits salmonids. Since 2001, the concentrations of phosphorus have remained relatively stable (see Figure 38 in the Nutrient loading and algal blooms section on page 52).

Rare features

Saline lakes and ponds in Kamloops and the southern Okanagan contain unique chemistry, non-vascular plants, and invertebrates. Footnote 52 Footnote 53 In addition, microbialites--large coral-like structures produced by cyanobacteria--occur in two lakes near Lillooet. Footnote 14

Streams

Most of the watersheds in the WIBE are snowmelt-driven systems with high spring freshets. The spring freshet, from April to June, can account for as much as 90% of annual stream flow. Footnote 54 After the freshet, water flow generally remains low for the summer, fall, and winter. Changes in streamflow associated with climate change have been recorded in the Similkameen and Kettle rivers and are discussed in the Climate change section on page 55.

The BC Ministry of Environment sets water quality objectives for streams (and other waterbodies) that are or may be affected by human activities. Footnote 55All of the major rivers and many of the smaller streams in the WIBE are monitored regularly for physical, chemical, and biological characteristics to ensure that they meet the water quality objectives. For select sites, a Water Quality Index Footnote 56was calculated in 2002–2004 to assess the overall quality for the end uses of the water, such as drinking water, recreation, irrigation, or habitat for aquatic life. Footnote 57Water quality varied from marginal to good at eight sites from 2002 to 2004 (Table 3). For example, the water quality of the Fraser River at Hope improved through reductions of adsorbable organohalogens (AOX) and chloride from 1979–2004, due to abatement of pulp mill waste entering the river. The water quality of the Okanagan River at Oliver declined from 1980–2002 due to agricultural runoff (Table 3). Footnote 57

Table 3. Water Quality Index (WQI) in 2002–2004, rank, trend, concerns monitored, and the cause of the rank and trend for eight river sites in the WIBE.
Site (Years of Records)WQI Table Footnote a ScoreRank Table Footnote aTrendConcerns monitoredCause of Trend
Fraser River at Hope
(1979–2004)
84.2GoodImprovingAdsorbable organohalogens (AOX), chloridePulp mill waste abatement
Kettle River at Carson
(1980–2002)
71.0FairStable-No past trend
Kettle River at Midway
(1980–2002)
76.7FairStable-No past trend
Okanagan River at
Oliver (1980-2002)
70.8FairDeterioratingChlorideIrrigation return
flows
Salmon River at Salmon Arm (1985–2004)45.8MarginalStableFecal coliformsAgricultural non-point source abatement
Similkameen River at Princeton (1989–1997)83.2GoodStable-No past trend
Similkameen River
near US Border
(1979–2000)
82.7GoodStableArsenicUnknown
Thompson River at Spences Bridge
(1985–2004)
65.2FairStableChloride, dioxins, and furans in fishPulp mill waste abatement

Table Footnote

Footnote 1

The scoring and ranks are based on the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Water Quality Index (WQI) Footnote 56
Source: BC Ministry of Environment, 2007 Footnote 57

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Benthic invertebrates were collected from urban streams in the Okanagan for use as indicators of stream health. The benthic index of biological integrity (B-IBI) is a measure of the ability of streams to support biological communities including algae, invertebrates, fish, and aquatic mammals and birds. The B-IBI is a composite index based on a series of metrics characterizing the stream invertebrate community, including total taxa, number of plecoptera taxa, number of ephemeroptera taxa, number of intolerant taxa, and number of clinger taxa. These metrics responded predictably to cumulative watershed disturbance and ly distinguished urban and highly altered sites from low impact sites. Footnote 58Of 31 stream sites assessed, 68% were in fair, poor, or very poor condition, 16% were in good condition, and 16% were in excellent condition (Figure 20). Footnote 58 Low B-IBI scores suggest that these streams are subject to stressors such as the loss of riparian vegetation, channelization, stormwater inputs, and degraded water and sediment quality.

Figure 20. Okanagan Valley Benthic Index of Biological Integrity from 1999 to 2004.
The categories in parentheses indicate the estimated stream condition based on index score.
Source: Jensen, 2006 Footnote 58

graph

Long Description for Figure 20

This bar chart shows the following information:

Data for figure 20
B-IBI scoreNumber of streams
23-25 (excellent)5
19-22 (good)5
14-18 (fair)12
9-13 (poor)6
5-8 (very poor)3

 

Habitat alteration and loss

Increasing human population, urbanization, and a history of changes to lake and stream systems will continue to alter the hydrology and availability of water in the WIBE. The Okanagan Basin has experienced the most substantial modifications to its hydrologic regime as a result of the construction of storage dams, withdrawals of water for residential, agricultural, and industrial uses, and channelization of the Okanagan River. These impacts include changes in the annual rate of flow and alteration or removal of floodplains and riparian areas of the Okanagan River. Footnote 20

Dams

Most Okanagan streams and headwater lakes have been dammed; outlets of five of the six large Okanagan valley floor lakes are regulated, and there are reservoirs on many of the upstream tributaries. Footnote 59From 1913 to 1998, the number of dams on inflows to the Okanagan Lake increased from 11 to 147. Footnote 60

Portions of the land in the Thompson and Fraser basins within the WIBE are upstream of a dam (Figure 21). In addition, all the land area of the Okanagan, Similkameen, and Kettle watersheds is upstream of a dam. Okanagan, Skaha, Vaseux, and Osoyoos lakes all have outlet dams (Penticton, Skaha, McIntyre, and Zosel dams, respectively), and two of them are managed to allow the passage of fish upstream (Zosel Dam downstream of Osoyoos Lake and McIntyre Dam downstream of Vaseux Lake; the latter was modified in 2009). Footnote 61The passage of fish upstream is barred on the Similkameen River by the Enloe Dam (in Washington State), which was built at the site of a natural barrier to the passage of fish. There are no dams on the mainstems of the Fraser, North and South Thompson, and Kettle rivers.

Figure 21: Areas upstream of a dam in the Western Interior Basin Ecozone+, 2008.
Source: Austin and Eriksson, 2009. Footnote 52

map

Long Description for Figure 21

This map illustrates that approximately half of the land in the Thompson and Fraser basins within the WIBE are upstream of a dam. These areas are concentrated in the southern half and northwestern most portions of the ecozone+.

 

Water allocation and diversion

Water allocations and diversions from lakes and streams in the WIBE are primarily for residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, water storage, and habitat conservation uses. Water may also be allocated to power production and mining. Many parts of the WIBE, especially in the Okanagan and Thompson basins, have high rates of water diversion (Figure 22). The majority of water use restrictions on streams in BC are located in the WIBE. Footnote 62

Figure 22. Water diversion index, 2008.
Source: Austin and Eriksson, 2009 Footnote 52

map

Long Description for Figure 22

This map shows the amount of water diverted in the WIBE based on an index whose categories increase exponentially from 1-220 to 37,043-5,056,563,610. Diversion is greatest around Kamloops and Kelowna as well as the major rivers of the ecozone+.

 

Water availability and use is well studied in the Okanagan Basin because of the Okanagan's growing population and arid conditions. The volume of surface water licensed for withdrawal per year is 443,000 megalitres (or 443 million m3, equivalent to 177,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools). Footnote 63An additional 351,000 megalitres per year are licensed for conservation and other non-consumptive uses. Footnote 63In the Okanagan watershed, 235 streams are considered "fully recorded," meaning that there was no additional water available to allocate more water licences. Footnote 64

Actual water use is not necessarily equivalent to water allocation in that water may be licensed for use but the licensee does not use the total volume allowed by the license. From 1996 to 2006, the average annual water use in the Okanagan Basin was 219,000 megalitres with 67% of this volume coming from surface water sources. Footnote 63During that time period, water use was 187,000 megalitres in 1997 (a wet year) and 247,000 megalitres in 2003 (a dry year). Footnote 63The increased use in 2003 was mainly due to agricultural and outdoor residential uses. Water use also varies throughout the year with the rate increasing in spring when irrigation begins and peaking in late July to mid-August. The largest annual users of water in the Okanagan Basin are the agricultural sector (55%) and residential users (31%). Footnote 63

The Okanagan–Similkameen Basin has the lowest amount of water (measured as area, m2) per capita in Canada. Footnote 65Demand for water in this water-scarce region is rising with ongoing population, urban, and agricultural growth. Footnote 66The consequence of a limited initial water supply in conjunction with human demands for water, increased evaporation, and climate change impacts on the seasonal rate of flow is a scarcity of water for aquatic and riparian ecosystems, especially during drought years. Footnote 67

Channelization of Okanagan River

Sections of the Okanagan River were channelized for flood control and irrigation from 1949 to the mid-1950s (Figure 23). Footnote 68, Footnote 69 Before channelization, the Okanagan River regularly flooded communities within its floodplain; particularly large floods occurred in 1928, 1942, and 1948. Footnote 68The channelization shortened the river from 61 km to 41 km and decreased the areal extent of its floodplain from 2.12 km2 in 1800 to 0.15 km2 in 2005. Footnote 20 A few sections of the river remain in a natural or semi-natural state, Footnote 70but 93% of the natural river has been lost. Footnote 20

The Okanagan River Restoration Initiative, sponsored by the Canadian Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group, is restoring part of the river to its original configuration. The 1-km section, just north of Oliver, will provide important habitat for salmon and trout, reduce the risk of flooding of lands adjacent to the floodplain, and allow riparian vegetation to re-establish. Footnote 71

Figure 23. Photograph of Okanagan River where it drains into Skaha lake in 1949 (left) and 1982 (right).
Source: after Cannings 2003 Footnote 72Copyright © Province of BC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the Province of BC.

map

Long Description for Figure 23

This figure consists of two historical photos: the first (1949) shows a natural, meandering river with side streams with floodplains on either side; the second (1982) shows a straight channel with dikes on either side.

 

Additional information about habitat loss and fragmentation in lakes and rivers can be found in the Ecosystem conversion section on page 40.

Key finding 7
Ice across biomes

Theme Biomes

National key finding
Declining extent and thickness of sea ice, warming and thawing of permafrost, accelerating loss of glacier mass, and shortening of lake-ice seasons are detected across Canada's biomes. Impacts, apparent now in some areas and likely to spread, include effects on species and food webs.

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Over time, the loss of glaciers can reduce the amount of water in glacial streams in summer and lead to increased water temperatures. Footnote 73Both streamflow and temperature are important factors for aquatic organisms, particularly cold-adapted species like salmonids. Footnote 73 Footnote 74 Footnote 75Since the mid-1970s, the loss of ice in southwestern Canada's glaciers has accelerated. Footnote 76

The World Glacier Monitoring Service recorded a 37 m reduction of ice thickness for Place Glacier, southwest of Lillooet near the western boundary of the WIBE, from 1964 to 2008 (Figure 24). Footnote 74The Bridge Glacier, northwest of Lillooet, declined from 92 km2 to 84 km2 (7%) between 1995 and 2005 (Figure 25). Footnote 75

Additional information related to glacier melt can be found in the Climate change section on page 55.

Figure 24. Cumulative average loss of ice thickness (cumulative sum of annual mass balances) for Place Glacier from 1964 to 2008.
Source: Demuth et al., 2009. Footnote 74Data provided by World Glacier Monitoring Service.

graph

Long Description for Figure 24

This line graph shows the following information:

Data for figure 24
YearMetres of water equivalent
1964-
1965-650
1966-540
1967-1750
1968-1880
1969-2090
1970-3600
1971-3940
1972-4280
1973-4580
1974-4020
1975-4260
1976-4176
1977-5403
1978-5836
1979-8046
1980-8966
1981-10056
1982-10806
1983-11246
1984-11586
1985-13466
1986-14776
1987-15626
1988-16596
1989-17636
1990-18574
1991-19564
1992-20357
1993-22637
1994-24647
1995-27133
1996-27354
1997-28242
1998-30692
1999-30072
2000-29942
2001-30702
2002-30822
2003-31817
2004-34027
2005-35322
2006-36702
2007-37042
2008-
Figure 25. Change in the extent of Bridge Glacier from 1995 to 2005.
Note the westward recession of the main tongue of the glacier.
Source: Stahl et al., 2008 Footnote 75 This material is reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Change in the extent of Bridge Glacier

Long Description for Figure 25

This figure contains two maps: in 2005, non-forest has grown as the main tongue of the glacier receded compared to 1995.

 

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Content Footnote

Footnote 1

Ahern, F., Frisk, J., Latifovic, R. and Pouliot, D. 2011. Monitoring ecosystems remotely: a selection of trends measured from satellite observations of Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010,Technical Thematic Report No. 17.Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON.

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Footnote 2

Hectares BC.2009. Hectares BC. [online]. Government of British Columbia. (accessed October, 2008).

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Footnote 3

Austin, M.A., Buffett, D.A., Nicolson, D.J., Scudder, G.G.E. and Stevens, V. (eds.). 2008. Taking nature's pulse: the status of biodiversity in British Columbia. Biodiversity BC. Victoria, BC. 268 p.

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Footnote 4

Lee, P., Gysbers, J.D. and Stanojevic, Z. 2006. Canada's forest landscape fragments: a first approximation (a Global Forest Watch Canada report). Observatoire Mondial des Forêts. Edmonton, AB. 97 p.

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Footnote 5

Austin, M. 2008. BC Ministry of Environment. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 6

BC Ministry of Forests and Range. 2010. Kamloops forest district news highlights, andOkanagan Shuswap forest district quick facts [online].British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range.(accessed 1 January, 2010).

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Footnote 7

BC Ministry of Forests and Range. 2008. Tree species composition and diversity in British Columbia. Forest and Range Evaluation Program Report # 14. British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range. Victoria, BC. x + 66 p.

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Footnote 8

BC Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands. 2010.The state of British Columbia's forests: third edition.Forest Practices and Investment Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands. Victoria, BC. xiii + 308 p.

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Footnote 9

Lea, T. 2008. Historical (pre-settlement) ecosystems of the Okanagan Valley and Lower Similkameen Valley of British Columbia: pre-European contact to the present. Davidsonia 19:3-36.

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Footnote 10

Daubenmire, R. 1970. Steppe vegetation of Washington. Washington State Agricultural Experiment Station. Pullman, WA. 131 p.

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Footnote 11

Demarchi, R.A. 2000. Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in accounts and measures for managing identified wildlife: accounts version 2004. British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. Victoria, BC. 19 p.

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Footnote 12

Hooper, T.D. and Pitt, M.D. 1996. Breeding bird communities and habitat associations in the grasslands of the Chilcotin Region, British Columbia. Forest Resource Development Agreement (FRDA) II. Victoria, BC. 69 p.

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Footnote 13

Wikeem, B. and Newman, R. 1984. Rangeland extensions of grassland species in southern interior BC. Canadian Journal of Botany 63:2240-2242.

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Footnote 14

Iverson, K. 2004. Ecosystems in British Columbia at risk: grasslands of the southern interior. BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management and the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. 6 p.

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Footnote 15

Wikeem, B. and Wikeem, S. 2004. The grasslands of British Columbia. BC Grasslands Conservation Council. Kamloops, BC. 497 p.

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Footnote 16

Blackstock, M.D. and McAllister, R. 2004. First Nations perspectives on the grasslands of the interior of British Columbia. Journal of Ecological Anthropology 8:24-46.

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Footnote 17

Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia. 2007.Understanding grasslands [online].(accessed 12 November, 2009).

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Footnote 18

BC Ministry of Environment. 2007. Environmental trends in British Columbia: 2007. British Columbia Ministry of Environment. Victoria, BC. 352 p.

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Footnote 19

Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia. 2004. BC grasslands mapping project: a conservation risk assessment final report. Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia. Kamloops, BC. 108 p.

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Footnote 20

Lea, T. 2007. Historical (pre-European settlement) ecosystems of the Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys. South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program AGM. Penticton, BC. 27 November, 2007. Meeting Presentation.

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Footnote 21

Gauthier, D. and Riemer, G. 2003. Introduction to Prairie Conservation. In Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan 2003-2008. Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina. Regina, SK. pp. 1-8.

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Footnote 22

Scott, J.M., Davis, F.W., McGhie, R.G., Wright, R.G., Groves, C. and Estes, J. 2001. Nature reserves: do they capture the full range of America's biological diversity? Ecological Applications 11:999-1007.

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Footnote 23

Bai, Y., Thompson, D. and Broersma, K. 2004. Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine seed dormancy as regulated by grassland seedbed conditions. Journal of Range Management 57:661-667.

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Footnote 24

Turner, J. and Krannitz, P. 2000. Tree encroachment in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen valleys of British Columbia. In Proceedings from science to management and back: a science forum for southern interior ecosystems of British Columbia. Edited by Hollstedt, C., Sutherland, K. and Innes, T. Southern Interior Forest Extension and Research Partnership. Kamloops, BC. pp. 81-83.

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Footnote 25

Strang, R.M. and Parminter, J.V. 1980. Conifer encroachment on the Chilcotin grasslands of British Columbia. Forestry Chronicle 56:13-18.

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Footnote 26

Krannitz, P. 2007. Abundance and diversity of shrub-steppe birds in relation to encroachment of ponderosa pine. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119:655-664.

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Footnote 27

Gayton, D.V. 2004. Native and non-native plant species in grazed grasslands of British Columbia's southern interior. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 5:51-59.

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Footnote 28

BC Ministry of Forests Research Program. 2000. The ecology of wetland ecosystems. Extension Note No. 45. British Columbia Ministry of Forests. Smithers, BC.

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Footnote 29

National Wetlands Working Group. 1988. Wetlands of Canada. Ecological Land Classification Series No. 24. Sustainable Development Branch, Environment Canada and Polyscience Publications Inc. Ottawa, ON and Montréal, QC. 452 p.

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Footnote 30

Brinson, M.M. 2008. Temperate freshwater wetlands: response to gradients in moisture regime, human alterations and economic status. In Aquatic ecosystems: trends and global prospects. Edited by Polunin, N.V.C. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. pp. 127-140.

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Footnote 31

BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management and BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. 2004. Ecosystems in British Columbia at risk: wetlands of the southern interior valleys. Government of British Columbia. Victoria, BC. 6 p.

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Footnote 32

BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. Habitat atlas for wildlife at risk: South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen. [en ligne]. British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/okanagan/esd/atlas/index.html (accessed Nov. 10 2009).

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Footnote 33

Sarell, M. 1990. Survey of relatively natural wetlands in the South Okanagan. Habitat Conservation Trust Fund. Victoria, BC. 7 p.

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Footnote 34

Holt, R.F., Utzig, G., Carver, M. and Booth, J. 2003. Biodiversity conservation in BC: an assessment of threats and gaps. Veridian Ecological Consulting. Nelson, BC. 91 p.

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Footnote 35

Rae, R. and Andrusak, H. 2006. Ten-year summary of the Okanagan Lake action plan 1996-2005. BC Ministry of Environment. Penticton, BC. 41 p.

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Footnote 36

BC River Forecast Centre. 2011. Unpublished analysis of data obtained from theWater Survey of Canada: Normal analysis and net inflow calulations for Okanagan Lake 1921-2011 [online].Water Survey of Canada. (accessed 2 February, 2012).

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Footnote 37

Environment Canada. 2009.Archived hydrometric data [online].Environment Canada. (accessed 3 March, 2013).

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Footnote 38

Jensen, E.V. and Epp, P.F. 2002. Water quality trends in Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos lakes in response to nutrient reductions and hydrologic variation. BC Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection. Penticton, BC. 17 p.

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Footnote 39

Austin, M.A. and Eriksson, A. 2009. The biodiversity atlas of British Columbia. Biodiversity BC. 135 p.

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Footnote 40

British Columbia Bryophyte Recovery Team. 2009. Recovery strategy for alkaline wing-nerved moss (Pterygoneurum kozlovii) in British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment. Victoria, BC. 17 p.

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Footnote 41

Dobson, D. 2004. Hydrology and watershed management. In Okanagan Geology, British Columbia. Edition 2. Edited by Roed, M.A. and Greenough, J.D. Kelowna Geology Committee. Kelowna, BC. Chapter 13.

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Footnote 42

BC Ministry of Environment. 2009.Environmental protection division, water quality [online].British Columbia Ministry of Environment.

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Footnote 43

Water Quality Task Group. 2006. A Canada-wide framework for water quality monitoring. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Victoria, BC. iii + 25 p.

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Footnote 44

BC Ministry of Environment. 2007.State of environment reporting, water quality index for surface water bodies in BC [online].British Columbia Ministry of Environment. (accessed 25 March, 2012).

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Footnote 45

Jensen, E.V. 2006. Cumulative effects monitoring of Okanagan streams using benthic invertebrates, 1999 to 2004. Ministry of Environment. Penticton, BC. 60 p.

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Footnote 46

Merritt, W.S., Alila, Y., Barton, M., Taylor, B., Cohen, S. and Neilsen, D. 2006. Hydrologic response to scenarios of climate change in sub watersheds of the Okanagan Basin, British Columbia. Journal of Hydrology 326:79-108.

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Footnote 47

Hall, K., Stockner, J., Schreier, H. and Bestbier, R. 2001. Nutrient sources and ecological impacts on Okanagan Lake. Institute for Resources and Environment, University of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC.

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Footnote 48

Alex, K. 2010. Providing fish passage at McIntyre Dam. Bilateral Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group Meeting. 24 February, 2010. Penticton, BC. Meeting presentation.

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Footnote 49

Gayton, D.V. 2007. Major impacts to biodiversity in British Columbia (excluding climate change): a report to the conservation planning tools committee. Technical Subcommittee Component Report. Biodiversity BC. i + 28 p.

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Footnote 50

Summit Environmental Consultants Inc. 2010. Okanagan water supply and demand project: phase 2 summary report. Okanagan Basin Water Board. Vernon, BC. xv + 82 p.

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Footnote 51

Shepherd, P., Neale, T. and Cohen, S. 2004. Water Management. In Expanding the dialogue on climate change and water management in the Okanagan Basin, British Columbia. Edited by Cohen, S., Neilsen, D. and Welbourn, R. Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of British Columbia. Chapter 3. pp. 11-24.

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Footnote 52

Statistics Canada. 2003. Human activity and the environment: annual statistics 2003. Human Activity and the Environment, Catalogue No. 16-201-XIE. Statistics Canada. Ottawa, ON. vi + 87 p.

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Footnote 53

Neale, T.L. 2005. Impacts of climate change and population growth on residential water demand in the Okanagan Basin, British Columbia. Thesis (M.A.). Royal Roads University, Environment and Management Program. Victoria, BC.

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Footnote 54

Nelitz, M., Wieckowski, K., Pickard, D., Pawley, K. and Marmorek, D. 2007. Helping Pacific salmon survive the impacts of climate change on freshwater habitats: pursuing proactive and reactive adaptation strategies. Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. Vancouver, BC. iii +122 p.

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Footnote 55

Symonds, B.J. 2000. Background and history of water management of Okanagan Lake and River. BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. Penticton, BC. 8 p.

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Footnote 56

Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group. 2009. Regional description - Okanagan Basin [online]. (accessed 17 December, 2009).

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Footnote 57

Glenfir Resources. 2002. A discussion paper concerning restoration of the Okanagan River and its riparian habitats. South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program. Penticton BC.

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Footnote 58

Canadian Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group. 2010. Major initiatives, Okanagan River Restoration Initiative (ORRI) [online]. Canadian Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group. (accessed 19 March, 2012).

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Footnote 59

Cannings, S.G. 2003. Status of western river cruiserMacromia magnificaMcLachlan in British Columbia. Wildlife Bulletin No. B-111. BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Managment.

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Footnote 60

Moore, R.D. and Demuth, M.N. 2001. Mass balance and streamflow variability at Place Glacier, Canada, in relation to recent climate fluctuations. Hydrological Processes 15:3473-3486.

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Footnote 61

Petts, G.E., Gurnell, A.M. and Milner, A.M. 2006. Eco-hydrology: new opportunities for research on glacier fed rivers. In Peyto Glacier: one century of science. Science Report #8. Edited by Demuth, M.N., Munro, D.S. and Young, G.J. Institut national de recherche sur les eaux. pp. 255-278.

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Footnote 62

Milner, A.M., Brown, L.E. and Hannah, D.M. 2009. Hydroecological response of river systems to shrinking glaciers. Hydrological Processes 23:62-77.

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Footnote 63

World Glacier Monitoring Service. 2008. Global glacier changes: facts and figures. World Glacier Monitoring Service and United Nations Environment Programme. Zurich, Switzerland. 88 p.

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Footnote 64

Demuth, M.N., Sekerka, J., Bertollo, S. and Shea, J. 2009. Glacier mass balance observations for Place Glacier, British Columbia, Canada (updated to 2007). Spatially referenced data set contribution to the National Glacier-Climate Observing System, state and evolution of Canada's glaciers [online]. Geological Survey of Canada. (accessed 3 March, 2011).

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Footnote 65

Stahl, K., Moore, R.D., Shea, J.M., Hutchinson, D. and Cannon, A.J. 2008. Coupled modelling of glacier and streamflow response to future climate scenarios. Water resources research 44:13.

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Introduction