Let’s not drop the ball on drought preparedness

July 2, 2024

By: Meghan Rooney

This year is looking a bit different than this time in 2023 when the province was holding press conferences calling on the public to take shorter showers in response to severe, widespread drought. Despite an alarmingly low snowpack, conditions heading into summer are not as severe this year for most of the province. But they’re not great.

A look at the current snowpack and drought conditions make it clear we should not get complacent about drought this summer.

B.C. Drought Map. At the end of June, only one area of the province – the northwest – had sufficient water to meet needs. The South and East Peace regions were already at Drought Level 4 out of 5.

Snowpack

Think of B.C.’s snowpacks as our fresh water savings account. Snow accumulates in the fall and winter, and our savings increase. Come late spring, snow begins to melt and our snowpack savings account starts to deplete as snow melt enters rivers and streams. This snowmelt keeps our waterways flowing and cool, which is important for all water users but particularly important for salmon, who need cool, clean, well-oxygenated waters to live.

B.C.’s last snowpack report for the year was released on June 20. Between the 1st and 15th, the provincial average snowpack dropped from 50 percent of normal to 38 per cent of normal for this time of year. (For reference, this time last year it was at 4 per cent of normal.)

However, that 38 per cent, while significantly less than average, fails to capture how variable conditions are in different regions of the province. South Coast, Vancouver Island, Central Coast, Okanagan, Similkameen, Boundary and Peace basins are all less than 18 per cent of normal. Meanwhile Kootenay, Stikine and Upper Fraser East and Columbia basins are all above 50 per cent of normal. The Fraser basin matches the provincial average at 38 per cent.

Drought

A cool, wet end to spring led to a reduction in drought levels for most regions of B.C. A notable exception is the Peace Region, where severe drought has continued to persist since last year.

Since most of our basins don’t have enough remaining snowpack, we’re more dependent on rainfall to stave off increasing drought risk. Luckily, in many regions we’re now getting some of the rain we didn’t see in the spring. If we see extended periods of dry, hot weather, we will see drought levels start to increase across the province.

This could be particularly bad if we see drought levels increase and persist into the fall as they did in 2023, which delayed migration for returning spawning salmon.

Preparing for drought

While the province took some proactive steps this spring in anticipation of another bad year of drought, there’s much more that could be done.

We worry that a couple of weeks of cool weather and rain has made the government feel like the pressure is off, and they’ve done their job. They have not. Now is the time to take additional action – before drought risk increases. If it doesn’t, then we’re ahead of the game for next year.

Action means more funding to support B.C.’s Watershed Security Fund to restore our natural defences. It also means implementing fish protection orders proactively to protect at-risk salmon and steelhead populations. And it means ensuring that industrial water users are not taking more than their fair share of water – especially during times of drought – and punishing them appropriately if they are.

This is far from an exhaustive list but these are some of the important steps government can take now to better defend wild salmon from another year of drought.

Share This Story!

Let’s not drop the ball on drought preparedness

July 2, 2024

By: Meghan Rooney

This year is looking a bit different than this time in 2023 when the province was holding press conferences calling on the public to take shorter showers in response to severe, widespread drought. Despite an alarmingly low snowpack, conditions heading into summer are not as severe this year for most of the province. But they’re not great.

A look at the current snowpack and drought conditions make it clear we should not get complacent about drought this summer.

B.C. Drought Map. At the end of June, only one area of the province – the northwest – had sufficient water to meet needs. The South and East Peace regions were already at Drought Level 4 out of 5.

Snowpack

Think of B.C.’s snowpacks as our fresh water savings account. Snow accumulates in the fall and winter, and our savings increase. Come late spring, snow begins to melt and our snowpack savings account starts to deplete as snow melt enters rivers and streams. This snowmelt keeps our waterways flowing and cool, which is important for all water users but particularly important for salmon, who need cool, clean, well-oxygenated waters to live.

B.C.’s last snowpack report for the year was released on June 20. Between the 1st and 15th, the provincial average snowpack dropped from 50 percent of normal to 38 per cent of normal for this time of year. (For reference, this time last year it was at 4 per cent of normal.)

However, that 38 per cent, while significantly less than average, fails to capture how variable conditions are in different regions of the province. South Coast, Vancouver Island, Central Coast, Okanagan, Similkameen, Boundary and Peace basins are all less than 18 per cent of normal. Meanwhile Kootenay, Stikine and Upper Fraser East and Columbia basins are all above 50 per cent of normal. The Fraser basin matches the provincial average at 38 per cent.

Drought

A cool, wet end to spring led to a reduction in drought levels for most regions of B.C. A notable exception is the Peace Region, where severe drought has continued to persist since last year.

Since most of our basins don’t have enough remaining snowpack, we’re more dependent on rainfall to stave off increasing drought risk. Luckily, in many regions we’re now getting some of the rain we didn’t see in the spring. If we see extended periods of dry, hot weather, we will see drought levels start to increase across the province.

This could be particularly bad if we see drought levels increase and persist into the fall as they did in 2023, which delayed migration for returning spawning salmon.

Preparing for drought

While the province took some proactive steps this spring in anticipation of another bad year of drought, there’s much more that could be done.

We worry that a couple of weeks of cool weather and rain has made the government feel like the pressure is off, and they’ve done their job. They have not. Now is the time to take additional action – before drought risk increases. If it doesn’t, then we’re ahead of the game for next year.

Action means more funding to support B.C.’s Watershed Security Fund to restore our natural defences. It also means implementing fish protection orders proactively to protect at-risk salmon and steelhead populations. And it means ensuring that industrial water users are not taking more than their fair share of water – especially during times of drought – and punishing them appropriately if they are.

This is far from an exhaustive list but these are some of the important steps government can take now to better defend wild salmon from another year of drought.

Share This Story!

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