‘Here we are talking about drought in February’

Water security groups in British Columbia are coming together to face another summer devastated by drought and wildfires after the province revealed snowpack is 40 per cent lower than normal. And they are urging the provincial government to do the same.

Extremely low snow levels across most of British Columbia, ongoing drought in certain areas of the province and unusually warm weather are increasing the risk of widespread drought and wildfires this spring and summer, according to the Centre’s snow bulletin of the BC River Forecast released Thursday.

Drought danger levels are pronounced on Vancouver Island, the South Coast and the Lower Fraser due to low snowpack. The risk of water shortages in the Okanagan, Kalamalka and Wood lakes, Lake Nicola and Nicola River regions is also high, as runoff from melting snow is expected to remain low, the center reported.

Vancouver Island is the most worrying point, with snow cover 70 percent below normal. The South Coast is 60 per cent lower, Lower Fraser is 53 per cent lower and Quesnel is 45 per cent lower.

Snowpacks often act as natural reservoirs, supplying water to communities, farmers, wildlife and watersheds as they melt in the warmer, drier summer months.

However, this year’s snowpack situation is worse than last year, when snow levels were 20 percent lower than normal, followed by water shortages across the province for the summer and a fire season that devastated 2.84 million hectares of land and forced the evacuation of dozens of people. thousands of residents.

The BC River Forecast Center is reporting extremely low snowpack across the province that could indicate a severe summer drought if hot weather and lack of precipitation continue over the next few months.

It is not surprising that climate change has increased the frequency of droughts, floods and fires, said Oliver Brandes, leader of the POLIS Water Sustainability Project at the University of Victoria.

But the speed and severity of these climate impacts demand a paradigm shift to address them, Brandes emphasized, noting that water scarcity is no longer a temporary, unexpected event that communities simply must cope with.

Water security groups are rallying to take action now to address another looming summer drought after British Columbia’s snowpack is revealed to be 40 per cent lower than normal, and are urging the province to do the same.

“We are really facing a new reality. Think about it, here we are talking about drought in February,” she said.

“It’s good because at least we thought about it beforehand, but it’s bad because it’s a terrible sign of a really problematic situation.”

The province must show leadership to plan ahead for drought mitigation together with communities, First Nations, local governments and regional water users before the peak of a crisis, he said.

Suddenly turning off the tap on farmers, industry and other commercial users who depend on groundwater without collective advance planning or conservation efforts when water shortages reach critical levels in July or August, which occurred last summer, is not an effective way to manage drought. he added.

“The worst thing you can do is go through two or three weeks of drought and then decide whose water is going to be cut off,” Brandes said.

“People need to know beforehand so they can organize themselves and make it fair… and not feel like they’re being unfairly targeted.”

The province licenses and regulates groundwater and surface water that rural commercial users who do not access municipal systems often rely on.

Last summer, industrial water users and farmers growing water-intensive forage crops in central Vancouver Island faced provincial water restrictions in the Tsolum, Koksilah and Cowichan river systems, as did many water holders. water licenses in the Thompson Okanagan region.

The province also needs to know how much groundwater or surface water is used across the province, by whom and for what, he added.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Brandes said.

“When you leave [a] winter where the drought never really went away and [have] With a difficult season ahead, one can certainly wonder if water bottling plants, golf courses and water parks should be priorities.”

Minister of Water, Land and Resource Management Nathan Cullen said the province is aware of the increasing likelihood of severe drought conditions occurring again this year.

“Unless conditions become wetter in the coming months, the potential for drought is very real and our government is already taking steps to help people prepare,” Cullen said in an emailed statement.

“We are determined to take action and have already increased grants for community emergency response, grants for agricultural water infrastructure, fisheries protection and [created] a $100 million watershed security fund.”

However, the minister’s office did not clarify whether the province intends to begin requiring large-scale consumers to measure or report their water use, or whether it is considering increasing rates for large-volume industrial water users. to encourage conservation and reinvest in provincial water security. .

Farmers and ranchers face some of the toughest challenges due to the drought, Cullen said, adding that the province is working now with farmers to prepare for summer.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food announced that it plans to hold workshops in more than 30 communities to help farmers overcome potential water shortages and provide information on available financial support.

The province new regulations recently drafted that allow fines for individuals who violate the Water Sustainability Act of up to $100,000 for a general violation and up to $500,000 for serious penalties.

“As we experience more severe drought seasons due to climate change, it is the role of all levels of government, businesses, organizations, First Nations and people to work together and find solutions,” Cullen said.

The province is developing a basin security strategy Set to launch this spring, it includes the goal of establishing regional watershed tables so that First Nations, local governments, communities and water users can shape local solutions.

Brian Holmes, co-chair of the Nicola Watershed Governance Partnership, says First Nations, the province and water users are working proactively to mitigate drought and conserve water for the environment, Indigenous cultural and ceremonial needs and agriculture. Photo sent

A regional roundtable is up and running and already working to try to cushion impacts for all users of the water-stressed Nicola Basin in B.C.’s interior, said Upper Nicola Band councilor Brian Holmes.

In total, the five Nicola First Nations governments, including the Coldwater, Lower Nicola, Nooaitch and Shacken Indian Bands, have established the Nicola Basin Governance Partnership (NWGP) with the province, Holmes said.

Drought, compounded by severe fires and flooding, are current problems in the region, said Holmes, co-chair of the NWGP.

“The difference is that now with this partnership we have a collective voice with the government and First Nations,” Holmes said.

“We are looking to incorporate indigenous knowledge and laws into decision-making, something that was missing before.”

Taking a holistic view of water use in the region that incorporates environmental concerns and First Nations uses, as well as the needs of other water users, is critical to caring for the resource, he said.

But it is essential to establish partnerships, trust and cooperation with all water users before making difficult decisions, he said.

“It’s really important to share information and thoughts about what management needs to be changed or done in terms of making this water system a little more sufficient for agriculture, industry and indigenous cultural and ceremonial needs,” he said.

The watershed roundtable is exploring solutions such as using surrounding lakes as natural water reservoirs and is now meeting with ranchers to find conservation solutions, discuss irrigation cuts, how to increase fish survival in low-lying rivers and watershed systems. more efficient irrigation.

“We’ve done it through the winter because when the end of summer comes, we go into that reactive stage where drought occurs,” Holmes said.

As long as there is communication about why and what water measures are needed, most water users will want to work to find solutions to water shortages, he said.

“Every rancher or private landowner around here has some ability to support water conservation,” Holmes said.

“So yes, it has been noted that there is less conflict and more willingness to work collectively to address problems.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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