Temporary water use restrictions on the Coldwater River and its tributaries have been reinstated effective noon, Sept. 2, 2015, through an order issued by Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson.
The order is issued under authority of the Fish Protection Act, and will affect 50 water licences. It is designed to allow irrigators flexibility to water while flows are high, but limit water use should flows fall below what is needed to protect coho, chinook and steelhead populations in the Coldwater River. In addition to protecting juvenile fish, larger adult coho and chinook salmon will be arriving soon to spawn. To improve spawning conditions and limit predation on these spawning fish during this critical period, flows on the river need to be at least 960 litres per second.
The new order will be in place until Sept. 30, 2015, and includes conditions that allow for varying responses depending on field conditions. Full-time irrigation will be permitted in accordance with individual water licences as long as flows exceed 1,160 litres per second. If flows fall below 1,160 litres per second, irrigation will be curtailed. If flows fall below the minimum flows required of 960 litres per second, all irrigation will be suspended. Flows will be measured and communicated every Monday and Friday during the period of the order to determine what level, if any, of irrigation will be allowed, if flows exceed the minimum. Because flows as of Sept. 2, are exceeding 1160 litres per second, irrigators will be allowed to resume full irrigation.
These measures strike a balance between providing water during a critical time for agricultural producers, while still taking the action necessary to protect fish populations. They also allow a modified response if minimum thresholds to protect fish are met.
The previous order, which restricted irrigation to a 12-hour schedule on July 31 and ceased irrigation on Aug. 11, was superseded on Aug. 19, 2015, when average flows over a seven day period exceeded 480 litres per second following a rainstorm. This allowed water licensees to resume irrigation on a reduced 12-hour schedule again. Recent rains have again temporarily increased flows, but these could quickly subside once the rain stops, and the new order is designed to respond should this occur.
Section 9 of the Fish Protection Act allows for ministerial orders to temporarily regulate water users, regardless of the terms of their water licence under the Water Act, provided the following conditions are met:
- Water levels are low due to drought.
- The survival of fish populations is or may be threatened due to low water levels.
- Due consideration has been given to the needs of agricultural users.
Before issuing the current order, the ministry requested water licensees in the area to undertake voluntary water conservation measures, and informed them that regulatory action may be required if these actions failed to mitigate the threat to fish populations.
Given unprecedented levels of drought this summer, ministry staff continue to monitor water levels and streamflows around the province.
- This is only the third time Section 9 of the Fish Protection Act has been used since its inception in 2009.
- The Nicola Region was designated Drought Level 4, “extremely dry” on July 21, 2015.
- On July 22, 2015, all angling was suspended on the Nicola, Coldwater and Spius rivers.
B.C. Drought Information: http://www.livingwatersmart.ca/drought/
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/