January 12, 2024
Vancouver, B.C. – The record-low snowpack in B.C. this winter could spell disaster for the summer, when melting snow fails to replenish the province’s freshwater reserves and B.C. is facing a fourth and potentially worse year of drought than in 2023.
Members of the BC Watershed Security Coalition urge provincial and federal leaders to put a plan in place to help B.C. residents and businesses at every level prepare for a severe scarcity of water.
The B.C. River Forecast Centre released its most recent snow survey data earlier this week. As of Jan. 1, the provincial snowpack was extremely low, averaging just 56 percent of normal across the province. Snowpack set a record low at 15 of the snow stations where measurements were taken – five of them in the Lower Fraser region and four in the Upper Columbia basin.
Last summer, B.C. experienced record drought and the worst wildfire season in its history. The consequences were far-reaching, ranging from farmers running out of hay, thousands of dead salmon cooked to death in shallow waterways, businesses losing water access, and drinking water supply for First Nations and municipalities reaching dangerously low levels.
Drought also triggers wildfires and heightens the risk of more severe flooding in spring. It affects the health and well-being of all British Columbians.
The WSC is calling on the provincial government to start preparing B.C. communities immediately through a coordinated province-wide plan that strengthens community defences in the face of increasing drought impacts. This plan must include:
- Long-term, stable funding for drought prevention projects, including programs that reduce industrial and household water use;
- Creation of regional watershed boards and water sustainability plans that implement locally-designed solutions and reduce conflict over scarce water supplies;
- Improved water monitoring, watershed assessments, and mandatory water use reporting by industry.
- Prioritization and restoration of natural infrastructure that provides water storage and reduces drought/fire/flood risk at half the cost of built infrastructure (such as wetlands, beaver dam analogues and mature forest cover)
- A $1 Billion investment in the BC Watershed Security Fund so that communities across B.C. have access to the resources they need to implement local solutions.
“This low snowpack is very bad news for fish. It’s great to finally have some snow falling in many regions, but we will need a whole lot more over the next couple months to supply enough water to carry young salmon out to sea in the spring and allow adult salmon to spawn in the summer and fall. We need the provincial government to step up NOW with proactive drought planning. We can’t afford to repeat the previous pattern of doing nothing until the crisis is upon us.”
- Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society
“The farming community is concerned that extended drought will again leave us with water shortages for agriculture, less forage for cattle and the need to cope with shutdown orders to leave enough water for fish in some regions. It’s crucial for governments to take a proactive approach in addressing climate emergencies, particularly in effective communication and collaborative problem-solving with communities impacted by drought.”
“In 2023, across our study areas in the B.C. Kootenay region, lower-than-average snowpack was followed by above-average spring and summer air temperatures, contributing to a very early melt of the snowpack and snow-free conditions one month earlier than is typically recorded. Despite the recent snowfall, the Canadian Columbia Basin is still in a drought. In the wake of the January 1st Water Supply Bulletin that indicates we might feel the compounding effects of two years of snow drought, it is now more critical than ever that governments work with communities to strengthen monitoring of our changing watersheds so we can better prepare for climate impacts.”
- Hunter Smith, coordinator for the Living Lakes Canada Water Monitoring Framework project, which is tracking climate impacts on water supply, firstname.lastname@example.org
“With such low snowpack numbers, provincial action to prepare communities for drought is absolutely critical and cannot wait. The Province has the tools and must implement them now to support British Columbians to withstand the impacts of drought on drinking water supplies, food security, local businesses, and ecosystems. This action requires urgent investments in watershed planning and drought resilience projects such as smart water storage solutions, water conservation initiatives, real-time water monitoring, and the creation of local watershed boards and plans.”
Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Nicole Trigg, communications director and acting government liaison for Living Lakes Canada
Coree Tull, co-chair BC Watershed Security Coalition and director of government relations and engagement, BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative
Dave Zehnder, Kootenay-based rancher
The BC Watershed Security Coalition is a non-partisan coalition of 50 organizations, made up of community water experts and leaders in the field, including farmers, Indigenous champions, local governments, and representing 255,000 British Columbians from all walks of life.
B.C. River Forecast Centre Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, Jan. 1, 2024