Dry weather leads to historic low water levels in local rivers

The prolonged cold, coupled with the lack of precipitation, has contributed to the situation

Bella Coola Valley rivers hit near record lows earlier this month as dry weather continues to dominate the region.

“The Saloompt River was at its historic low for March earlier this month,” said Dave Campbell, Head of the BC River Forecast Centre. “Normally it’s running at three cubic metres per second and it was down to 1.5 cubic metres per second, which is very low.”

The prolonged cold, coupled with the lack of precipitation, has contributed to the situation. Campbell expects water levels to return to more normal levels as the warm weather continues.

“The extreme cold inhibited the run off and things are staying frozen longer,” he said. “Water that should have come down a month ago is just starting to come down now.”

Campbell also said that the region’s snowpack is sitting at about 78 percent of normal, something that could impact water levels later on in the summer.

“It’s hard to tell what will happen later on in the summer if there isn’t a lot of precipitation,” he said. “Rain plays a big role and it’s normally a very wet part of the world.”

Bella Coola has received below half of its average monthly precipitation for February and March, and the dry trend is is predicted to continue to the end of the month.

“It looks like we have had about 50mm of precipitation at the Environment Canada station at Bella Coola airport since February,” said Campbell. “Typically the location receives 164mm over February and March, so even with a small amount of rain in the forecast, we are in the 30 percent of normal range for combined February-March precipitation.”

Other parts of the coast, such as Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert, have been experiencing similar trends. In the north, the situation is even more pronounced, with Prince George seeing just two millimetres of rainfall, compared to a monthly average of 30. In Fort St. John, just 0.2 millimetres has fallen, well below the monthly average of 24.

Provincewide the snowpack is sitting at an average of 89 per cent of normal levels, which may not be of much concern if precipitation levels throughout the summer are more normal.

Russ Hilland, a longtime resident and president of the Bella Coola Valley Watershed Conservation Society, says that he believes the inner Central Coast is experiencing a “drought” cycle related to climate change, which may continue for some time.

He also said that if people spot struggling salmon fry that may have been cut off from the larger river flow, the Bella Coola Watershed Conservation Society have volunteers that can relocate them to a safe place.

The last two forest fire seasons in B.C. have been the worst on record, with many expecting that trend to continue. A recent federal study pointed the finger at climate change, stating that “wildfires that scorched vast tracts of southern British Columbia and led to forced evacuations in the summer of 2017 were stoked by climate change and are likely to become more common as global temperatures edge up.”

B.C. already spent $668 million in 2017 to fight forest fires. In 2018, more than 13,000 square kilometres of the province was burned, surpassing the 2017 record of 12,161 square kilometres. Last week the province announced it is increasing the fire fighting budget by 58 percent to $101 million.

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