Warm and dry winter months of January and February are causing environmental watchdogs concern over potential water supply problems for watersheds in the Kettle basin and the West Kootenays. Although this means there won’t be any flooding, drought problems which may be even worse than the 2009 conditions that resulted in very low river levels, reduced lake, reservoir, and groundwater storage, are expected and that has the water stewards of the area concerned for fish habitat and water quality.
“For a river already in danger, (the Kettle is now listed as #2 of the B.C. endangered rivers list) low snowpacks could mean a hard summer for the Kettle River and its fish,” explained Jenny Coleshill, co-ordinator for the Granby Wilderness Society. “High temperatures will kill fish if they don't find deep enough pools to hide in from the temperatures associated with low-flow levels and slow moving water. Fish can also become trapped during low water levels leaving them stranded in areas that may be vulnerable to rising temperatures.”
In a bulletin released by the Ministry of Environment’s river forecast centre, the Kettle basin is very dry. Individual snow courses range from 66% of normal (Monashee Pass) to 90% (Big White Mountain), with an overall basin index of 75%. The West Kootenay is also very dry. Individual snow courses range from 53% of normal (Nelson) to 94% (Redfish Creek snow pillow), with an overall basin index of 77%.
Generally, by early March, about 80 per cent of the mountain snowpack has accumulated, and there is only four to six weeks of winter remaining to accumulate additional snow. In order to reduce the potential for summer drought spring rainfall would need to be at or above-normal. It seems that the El Nino effect is continuing to persist, and the basins have not seen above-normal precipitation to make up for the missing snowpack.
“This reinforces the fears we’ve always had,” said Grace McGregor, regional director for area C and chair of the newly formed Kettle basin water committee. “If you look at run-off, and you look at the water that’s wasted during that time because we have no ability to store it, then how low does the aquifer in Grand Forks get, or how low does the underground water get that’s feeding all of our systems? That’s my huge concern. It totally reinforces the idea that we need a river management and watershed plan.”
Brenda LaCroix, co-ordinator of the Christina Lake Stewardship Society, agrees that there’s danger for fish and water quality in the upcoming months, both in the Kettle River and in the creeks that feed into Christina Lake.
“It will impact on our native fish species. Fish mortality will increase on the Kettle and creek systems with low-flows and high temperatures,” said LaCroix. “It’s the creek systems that we’re really concerned about. Particularly McCrae and Sutherland creeks, McCrae has been low for four years. That could be a creek system that may not come back. It’s happening all over the province – there are systems that are not coming back.”
Both LaCroix and Coleshill recommend that residents become more knowledgeable about water conservation and prepare for drought conditions.
“Lower snowpacks will demand us to become better at conserving water,” said Coleshill. “We must remind ourselves of the basics of water conservation and that every little bit helps: only water your garden in the evening or night, turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, use your dishwasher, stop landscaping lawns that require watering, get a rain barrel, and become stewards of our watersheds and environment. We are going to need it as we will be facing more and more water challenges.”