Concerns about water supply security, drought and water scarcity remain an issue for most of the southern half of British Columbia even as cooler temperatures and rain have arrived.
The unsettled weather has brought periods of rain to the northern and far eastern regions of the province, producing increased flows and alleviating threatening drought conditions. However, the dry conditions and water scarcity in the southwest Interior continue to intensify as precipitation systems are predicted to bypass these areas. The forecast slightly above-normal temperatures leading into the beginning of September will likely influence drought conditions as well.
Many freshwater angling closures are in place throughout B.C. due to increased stress to fish from low flows and high water temperatures. All water users in affected areas are asked to reduce their water use wherever possible and observe all watering restrictions from their local/regional government, water utility provider or irrigation district.
Voluntary reduction of water usage has proven to be an effective way to offset the need for regulatory action on the Coldwater River and Louis Creek, reinforcing the importance and benefits of conservation. Voluntary reduction of surface and groundwater continues to be highly encouraged for water users in southern B.C.
If conservation measures do not achieve sufficient results and drought conditions worsen, regulatory action will continue to be taken under the Water Sustainability Act. This includes temporary protection orders issued to water licensees to avoid significant or irreversible harm to the aquatic ecosystems.
As of Aug. 30, 2021, temporary protection orders have been issued for the Koksilah River, West Kettle, Bessette Creek and the Salmon River. Provincial staff are monitoring the situation, as well as the protection orders that are in place, and will continue to work to balance water uses with environmental flow needs. The B.C. government recognizes the distress that regulatory action can have on the livelihoods of British Columbians and ensures that regulatory staff are prepared to adjust or rescind orders if conditions change.
The drought level system ranges from level 0 to 5 in British Columbia. Drought Level 5 is the most severe, with adverse impacts to socioeconomic or ecosystem values almost certain.
There are currently four basins at Drought Level 5, including the Kettle River watershed, the Salmon River watershed, West Vancouver Island and East Vancouver Island. Note that smaller watersheds in the Thompson Okanagan region are also showing signs of being at a Drought Level 5.
Areas under Drought Level 4 as of Aug. 25, 2021, include:
- the North and South Thompson basins, the Okanagan basin, as well as the Coldwater River and Nicola River watersheds in the Thompson Okanagan region;
- the Lower Columbia and West Kootenay basins; and
- the Lower Mainland and South Coast basins.
In these areas, adverse effects of drought on people, fish or ecosystems are likely.
Regions under Drought Level 3 include the Similkameen, Cariboo/Chilcotin and Skagit watershed. Of note, several local streams in the Similkameen and Cariboo/Chilcotin areas are experiencing greater impacts.
Eleven other watershed basins in B.C. are either under Drought Level 2 or Drought Level 1.
Several locations throughout the province have had success throughout the summer with proactive drought management practices, including the City of Merritt, the irrigation community within the Coldwater River watershed and the Nicola River watershed, water users in the Louis Creek Watershed, and the Regional Districts of North Okanagan and the Kootenay Boundary. These are examples of how the strain on the watershed can be lessened by preventative measures by the community.
Water used to extinguish a fire or contain and control the spread of a fire remains exempt from a provincial water licence or approval. However, people under an evacuation order due to wildfire must leave the area immediately.
General water conservation tips:
- Limit outdoor watering.
- Do not water during the heat of the day or when it is windy.
- Consider planting drought-tolerant vegetation.
- Take shorter showers.
- Do not leave taps running.
- Install water-efficient showerheads, taps and toilets.
On the farm:
- Implement an irrigation scheduling program using real-time weather data.
- Schedule irrigation to match crop needs and soil storage capacity.
- Improve water system efficiencies and check for leaks.
- Focus on high-value crops and livestock.
- Reduce non-essential water use.
- Recycle water used in industrial operations.
- Use water-efficient methods and equipment.
Drought portal (maps, tables): https://governmentofbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=838d533d8062411c820eef50b08f7ebc
Freshwater sportfishing regulations and angling closures: www.gov.bc.ca/fishingregulations
How to apply for a groundwater licence: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/water/water-licensing-rights/water-licences-approvals/new-requirements-for-groundwater-users