People asked to conserve water as province says B.C. drought already worse than October 2022

Drought conditions are getting worse in many parts of British Columbia, and the provincial government is now calling on both people and industry to cut back on their water use. Kier Junos has the story.

The provincial government is providing a drought update, outlining what appears to be a perfect storm for drought conditions across B.C. this year.

The province says drought levels in B.C. are already worse than they were at the beginning of the fall last year, months ahead of historic patterns and levels of prior years.

On a six-degree scale, parts of B.C., including Vancouver Island, are already at the highest drought level — level 5.

The province explains this level means “adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are almost certain.”

Speaking Thursday, Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma says as of July 13, four of 34 water basins in the province have been lifted to level 5.

These conditions require action from everyone in BC as our government works with local communities and First Nations I’m calling on everyone, including businesses to follow water restrictions set by First Nations or local authorities and take steps to conserve water even above and beyond those restrictions.

Water is a precious resource and we are fortunate to have some of the best water in the world. Every drop counts and that’s why everyone needs to do their part,” Ma said.


B.C. drought levels as of July 13, 2023. (Courtesy: B.C. Ministry of Forests)

B.C. drought levels as of July 13, 2023. (Courtesy: B.C. Ministry of Forests)

B.C. historic drought levels. (Courtesy: B.C. Ministry of Forests)

B.C. historic drought levels. (Courtesy: B.C. Ministry of Forests)

Ma says “small changes” can be made in daily routines to help water levels, including watering lawns sparingly, if at all; taking shorter showers; and only doing full loads of dishes and laundry.

If each person and company makes a few small changes to how they use water, it can have a profound impact if you are a water licence holder consider ways to reduce your withdrawal of water from the Associated stream or aquifer. We are currently encouraging voluntary reductions at this time, but regulatory actions may be introduced if necessary.”

“Start conserving water now,” Ma said.

Ma says the province’s energy regulator has already issued expanded water suspensions for oil and gas operators and farming communities. “Right now it’s critically important to monitor and manage your water withdrawal from streams and wells. I know that many of you already do this, but now is the time for regular inspections.”

Hydrologist Jonathan Boyd from the B.C. River Forecast Centre shares it has “never been like this, this early.”

He explains that the current drought situation began about a year ago, and over the last 12 months, the province has seen 40 to 85 per cent of normal precipitation, depending on the region.

“[The drought] really got kick-started and pushed further when we hit hotter temperatures in May,” he said. “What’s unusual this year is how early it is and how widespread it is.”

The province shows that streamflows across B.C. are severely parched. The provincial government says that 187, or 54 per cent, streamflow recording stations are reporting levels in the 5th percentile or lower, compared to previous years.

The Fraser River, for example, was flowing at a rate of more than 9,000 m3/s on July 11, 2022. This year, the province says it’s flowing at a rate of just over 2,600 m3/s — a reduction of almost 60 per cent.

The province also notes that it is seeing the earliest melt of mountain snowpack since recordings began in 1988.

Officials add mountains usually become snow-free around this time in July, however, this year, its snow weather stations found mountains were snow free almost a month earlier in June.

As for the rest of the summer, the provincial government is forecasting a hot one.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), much of B.C. has an 80 to 100 per cent chance of experiencing “above normal” temperatures. It is also forecasting a 40 to 50 per cent chance that much of Vancouver Island and parts of Northern B.C. will see below-normal precipitation.

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Much of what the province is seeing comes as the province saw its hottest May on record. For the Agassiz area, the province says the region saw multiple days in a row of temperatures being nine to 10 degrees higher than normal.

Earlier this week, Ma urged B.C. residents to take measures to conserve water, adding many communities are already implementing water restrictions, and further measures across larger areas of the province are anticipated.

She said much of B.C. has been in drought conditions since last winter, with B.C.’s northeast, Lower Mainland, and Vancouver Island being of most concern.

Premier David Eby and Ma both said this week the situation in B.C. is serious and much of the province has never before experienced the current level of drought this early in the summer.

Ma notes that water restrictions are likely to come from local municipalities and First Nations.

“We’ll be speaking with all the mayors and chiefs and chairs this afternoon about the drought conditions that we’re seeing and encouraging communities to escalate their water restrictions.”

Meanwhile, the province says the drought conditions in B.C. are directly affecting wildfire-fighting efforts across the province.

More firefighting personnel coming from overseas to help BC Wildfire Service

Ma says B.C. has requested up to an additional 1,000 firefighting personnel to help with its efforts.

An incident management team from Australia will be arriving in the province on July 15 and they will support the approximately 160 international personnel from Mexico and the United States who are already working alongside BC Wildfire Service.

“I have spoken with Minister Bill Blair, and we’re optimistic our request will secure additional resources for our province. BC Welfare Service has also contracted additional air support capacity in recent days. We are continuously assessing the situation across the province closely and we will not hesitate to take action to keep people and communities safe.”

Ma says she and the province may assess the need for a provincial state of emergency.

“We have not yet needed these powers province-wide, but we will continue to ensure that we have all of the tools we need at our disposal to keep people and community safe.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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