Responding to dry conditions, the Government of B.C. has announced a Level 3 drought rating for the South Thompson, Nicola, Similkameen, Okanagan-Kettle and Skagit regions, and taken the additional action of suspending angling in streams and rivers throughout the South Okanagan due to ongoing low stream flows and warming water temperatures.
Effective July 15 through Sept. 15, 2015, all streams and rivers in the Similkameen drainage as well as the Kettle and West Kettle Rivers, and all tributary streams in these areas will be closed to angling. The angling closure covers all streams in Wildlife Management Units 8-2 through 8-7 and 8-12 through 8-14. The closure has been put in place to protect fish stocks at a time when they are vulnerable due to low flows and high water temperatures. The geographic area covers most of the south Okanagan. Lake fishing is not affected by the order.
On July 3, a similar angling closure order was put in place for southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. B.C. government fisheries biologists are monitoring approximately 60 other key angling streams throughout the province, and if conditions warrant, additional closures are possible. Angling closures are enabled through the British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations of the federal Fisheries Act.
Separately, Level 3 drought conditions call for voluntary water use reductions of 20% or more from all municipal, agricultural and industrial users. Staff with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations anticipate that these regions could experience significant water supply shortages in 2015.
Ministry staff are closely monitoring river levels and ecosystems and may upgrade the drought level if the weather continues to have a negative effect on stream flows and water supply. Currently, there are low streamflow advisories in effect for Vancouver Island, the South Nicola and Western Similkameen Regions.
- Low streamflow advisory - Vancouver Island (June 22, 2015): http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/lowflow/advisories/lsa01.htm
- Low streamflow advisory - South Nicola and Western Similkameen (July 6, 2015): http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/lowflow/advisories/lsa03.htm
Although residential, agricultural and industrial users within municipalities and regional districts backed by reservoir storage are less vulnerable to water supply shortages than water users served by smaller water systems from streams, lakes and wells, all water users are encouraged to observe local water conservation bylaws to prolong water supplies.
Water users are also encouraged to ensure that water intakes are screened to prevent fish from being pulled into water systems as water levels drop. Low water levels can impede the passage of salmon to spawning grounds, increase susceptibility to disease, or cause stranding or death due to low oxygen and high water temperatures.
Level 4 drought conditions, the highest rating, are determined by factors including regional stream flows, water storage capacity, ecological concerns, weather forecasts and impacts on water users. Should conditions reach Level 4, provincial water managers may exercise their authority to temporarily suspend short-term water permits or industrial water licences in affected watersheds.
Further reductions in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and affect people, agriculture, industry and fish stocks. Ministry staff will continue to monitor conditions, work closely with local governments and key stakeholders, and provide updates as the need arises.
Water conservation is everyone's responsibility. Many communities in B.C. are prepared to deal with water supply shortages and low streamflow conditions by drought management plans and water conservation programs that are already in place.
To see a map of the areas covered by the stream and river angling closures in the Okanagan visit: https://www.flickr.com/gp/bcgovphotos/cK43Pi
B.C. Drought Information: http://www.livingwatersmart.ca/drought/
B.C. Drought Level Map: http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/lowflow/droughtmap.htm
B.C. Drought Response Plan (June 2015): http://www.livingwatersmart.ca/drought/response.html
What Can You Do?: http://www.livingwatersmart.ca/drought/action.html
Agriculture Drought Strategies: http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/emergency/Drought/Drought.htm
Irrigation scheduling techniques and water conservation: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/business/natural-resource-industries/agriculture/agriculture-documents/resource-management/factsheets-and-publications/500-series/577100-1_irrigation_scheduling_techniques.pdf
For assistance in developing an irrigation schedule: http://ag-calc.irrigationbc.com/
Stream flow and precipitation conditions in B.C. are monitored by the River Forecast Centre -
- Low streamflow bulletins and advisories: http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/lowflow/index.htm
- Current water supply bulletin: http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/bulletins/watersupply/current.htm
Groundwater levels in provincial observation wells:
Environment Canada Water Conservation: http://www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/manage/effic/e_weff.htm
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
Drought: A co-ordinated cross-government response
- In partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Ministry of Agriculture, has developed an Agricultural Water Demand Model to determine how much water the agriculture industry needs today and in the future for a number of regions including Metro Vancouver, Nanaimo, Cowichan, Okanagan, Similkameen, Kettle, Nicola, Bonaparte, Salmon River, North Thompson, South Thompson, Comox, Fraser Valley, Lillooet, Pemberton, East Kootenay, Southern Gulf Island, and Cariboo. The model results can be used by each of the regions in developing their watershed plans and water reserves for agriculture. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/agricultural-land-and-environment/agriculture-water
- The Ministry of Agriculture is working with the federal government and the agriculture industry to proactively plan for climate change and extreme weather conditions and that partnership has resulted in regional agriculture climate adaptation strategies for several regions of the province including the Cariboo, Peace, Okanagan-Thompson, Lower Mainland, and Cowichan Valley. http://www.bcagclimateaction.ca/regional/overview/
Water Management and the Water Sustainability Act
- When the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) comes into force next year, additional provisions will enable government to better respond to drought including:
- Modifying the current priority system of water rights to make allowances for essential household needs of up to 250 litres per person per day and the authority to temporarily regulate water use during drought to protect critical environmental flows.
- Expanding government’s ability to protect aquatic ecosystems during times of water shortage by providing the Minister the authority to issue a temporary order declaring a significant water shortage in a specific area and allowing water managers to define and protect critical environmental flow thresholds in streams.
- Enabling more complete water management by licensing groundwater use. All non-domestic groundwater users will be required to obtain a water licence. Domestic groundwater users will not be required to obtain a licence; however they will be subject to the WSA and its regulations.
- Maintaining the minister’s power under the Fish Protection Act to order the temporary reduction of water use to protect fish habitat. This power was first used in 2009 when low winter snowpacks and a long dry summer threatened the health of kokanee salmon populations in the Upper Nicola River.
- Health authorities are working with partners to promote water use restrictions under these conditions.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations