Most streams and rivers on Vancouver Island are currently experiencing very low flows similar to this time last year.
With weather conditions expected to remain dry in the coming week after some initial short-lived precipitation, water users on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are being urged to reduce water consumption.
These regions are currently experiencing Level 3 hydrological drought conditions, which call for voluntary water use reductions of 30% from all municipal, agricultural and industrial users, except for systems supported by storage (lakes and reservoirs) or groundwater. The areas of particular concern include southern Vancouver Island, south of Tofino on the west coast and Campbell River on the east coast, and the Gulf Islands.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations anticipates that the region will likely experience significant water supply shortages in 2016 unless there is substantial precipitation between now and the end of June.
Ministry staff are closely monitoring river levels and may upgrade the drought level if the weather continues to have a negative effect on stream flows and water supply. Residential, agricultural and industrial users within municipalities and regional districts are encouraged to observe local water conservation bylaws.
Similar to last year, partial or complete closures of streams for recreational fisheries may need to occur this summer. The closure dates and the listing of affected streams will be publicly communicated and posted on the ministry’s in-season regulation changes website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/fish/regulations/
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.
Groundwater measurements taken at provincial observation wells in these regions currently indicate one half of the wells are currently below normal seasonal levels. However, shallow wells connected to streams are likely vulnerable to going dry earlier than usual this year. Well owners are encouraged to prolong groundwater supplies by using less and relying on stored water.
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 authorized water usage in affected watersheds and aquifers.
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.
The new Water Sustainability Act contains new tools to manage water use during times of scarcity, including authority for all households to access a basic amount of water for essential household needs, protection of critical environmental flows for fish and ecosystems, and regulation of groundwater withdrawals that may impact streamflows.
Water conservation is everyone's responsibility. Many communities in British Columbia 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.
Water conservation tips:
- Limit outdoor watering.
- Don’t water during the heat of the day or when it’s windy.
- Consider planting drought-tolerant vegetation.
- Take shorter showers.
- Don’t leave the tap running.
- Install water-efficient showerheads 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 usage.
- Recycle water used in industrial operations.
- Use water-efficient methods and equipment.