British Columbia has the lowest snowpack since record keeping began in 1980, with the provincial average at 53 per cent of normal. On top of that, high temperatures have encouraged an early melt, meaning snow is disappearing three or four weeks early. It’s largely gone from low and mid-elevations already.
“Basically the north just didn’t get a lot of snow this year,” said hydrologist Tobi Gardner of the River Forecast Centre. “Province-wide, it’s been a warm winter and a very warm spring … that really chewed away at the snowpack through April.”
Overall, conditions as of May 1 look more like June 1. If temperatures remain hot and dry, drought conditions will be exacerbated across the province, but it’s difficult to predict whether or not this will happen.
May and June are historically rainier months in the B.C. Interior, so normal or high rainfall there could still make for a typical summer, Gardner said.
“If it stays dry … things are sort of setting up for what could be a potential for drought this summer,” he said.
A new drought information portal from the B.C. government will provide updated information on streamflow and drought levels around the province this year.
With hot and dry conditions comes the risk of forest fires, as in Fort McMurray, which experienced record-breaking hot temperatures and a low snowpack throughout the winter.
The Central Coast has already been given a Level Two drought rating. The rating is based in part on current snow pack levels and the anticipated weather for the next several months.
Level Two is defined as: conditions are dry and first indications of potential water supply shortages are recognized. Emphasis is on stewardship and voluntary conservation through education, communication and planning.
In the Valley, this is important for people to recognize when their water source may become stressed. Despite a large portion of our water coming from glacier-fed streams, residents should still be aware of the implications, especially if they are on a private or shared well system.
“It will not likely be a big problem for withdrawal from one of the larger, glacial-fed rivers, but it is good to be aware and conscientious of water use, especially if you are sharing a well,” explained Lisa Nordin, Senior Ecosystems Biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. “Groundwater recharge is dependent on precipitation and percolation through the stream and river channels and if the weather is dry, and stream flow is diminished, even any connected wells could be at risk if withdrawal exceeds recharge. This is even more likely if there are multiple users on the same waterway.”
Nordin also explained that there are now new requirements to maintain minimum flows for fish, ,(called environmental flow needs) under the recently established Water Sustainability Act. This means minimum flows on a specific waterway will be considered before any new water licensees are issued and restrictions may be put into place during a significant water shortage to protect the critical environmental flow.
For more on that you can check out the Water Sustainability Act online: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/the-proposal-3/ and also check out the BC Drought Information Portal.