Record low B.C. snowpack likely means severe drought this summer

January 17, 2024

By: Dene Moore

On the first day of the new year, snowpack measurements were taken at 152 locations around British Columbia.

The results were not good.

B.C. is experiencing record-low snowpack this winter, on the heels of a summer of record drought and the worst wildfire season in its history.

Last summer, thousands of salmon cooked to death in shallow streams. In some areas, volunteers rushed to save fish stranded in depleted waterways by scooping them into buckets and carrying them upstream by hand.

Lichen, Troy Moth. Taku River Tlingit territory.

“This low snowpack is very bad news for fish,” says our executive director, Aaron Hill. “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 also 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.”

Certainly, it was a crisis last summer.

Farmers ran out of hay. Drinking water supplies in some First Nations and municipalities reached dangerously low levels. Businesses lost water access.

This year, the snowpack is 56 per cent of normal on average. At 15 locations, it set record lows. It does not bode well for next summer, when the spring freshet fails to replenish freshwater reserves in a province that has experienced several consecutive years of drought, each one worse than the last.

While snow is falling in some regions of B.C. the province normally accumulates nearly half of its snowpack by early January, according to the snowpack report released by the B.C. River Forecast Centre. 

“Currently, most of the province is well below normal with extremely low snowpack for January 1st. This increases the likelihood for drought conditions this summer,” it says.

Members of the BC Watershed Security Coalition, including Watershed Watch, are urging provincial and federal leaders to put a plan in place to help B.C. residents and businesses prepare for a severe scarcity of water.

The coalition 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.

“With such low snowpack numbers, provincial action to prepare communities for drought is absolutely critical and cannot wait,” says Coree Tull, coalition co-chair. “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.”

On January 12, the province did announce new regulations to enforce its Water Sustainability Act, including financial penalties for violations.

The new regulations allow the comptroller of water rights to issue fines up to $100,000 for general contraventions and up to $500,000 for the most serious. Previously, there were small fines of up to $230 for minor violations while major offences were subject to prosecution – which didn’t often happen.

“These increased fines will help but only if we have strong monitoring in place to know where illegal water use is taking place. And they should be a last resort,” Aaron says. “We need to use all the other tools in the toolbox, as well. There should be local water sustainability plans in place in every water-stressed watershed in the province, led by First Nations and local communities, to guide water management decisions in the ways that make the most sense for their communities. 

“No such plans are in place, and that needs to change.”

Share This Story!

Record low B.C. snowpack likely means severe drought this summer

January 17, 2024

By: Dene Moore

On the first day of the new year, snowpack measurements were taken at 152 locations around British Columbia.

The results were not good.

B.C. is experiencing record-low snowpack this winter, on the heels of a summer of record drought and the worst wildfire season in its history.

Last summer, thousands of salmon cooked to death in shallow streams. In some areas, volunteers rushed to save fish stranded in depleted waterways by scooping them into buckets and carrying them upstream by hand.

Lichen, Troy Moth. Taku River Tlingit territory.

“This low snowpack is very bad news for fish,” says our executive director, Aaron Hill. “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 also 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.”

Certainly, it was a crisis last summer.

Farmers ran out of hay. Drinking water supplies in some First Nations and municipalities reached dangerously low levels. Businesses lost water access.

This year, the snowpack is 56 per cent of normal on average. At 15 locations, it set record lows. It does not bode well for next summer, when the spring freshet fails to replenish freshwater reserves in a province that has experienced several consecutive years of drought, each one worse than the last.

While snow is falling in some regions of B.C. the province normally accumulates nearly half of its snowpack by early January, according to the snowpack report released by the B.C. River Forecast Centre. 

“Currently, most of the province is well below normal with extremely low snowpack for January 1st. This increases the likelihood for drought conditions this summer,” it says.

Members of the BC Watershed Security Coalition, including Watershed Watch, are urging provincial and federal leaders to put a plan in place to help B.C. residents and businesses prepare for a severe scarcity of water.

The coalition 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.

“With such low snowpack numbers, provincial action to prepare communities for drought is absolutely critical and cannot wait,” says Coree Tull, coalition co-chair. “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.”

On January 12, the province did announce new regulations to enforce its Water Sustainability Act, including financial penalties for violations.

The new regulations allow the comptroller of water rights to issue fines up to $100,000 for general contraventions and up to $500,000 for the most serious. Previously, there were small fines of up to $230 for minor violations while major offences were subject to prosecution – which didn’t often happen.

“These increased fines will help but only if we have strong monitoring in place to know where illegal water use is taking place. And they should be a last resort,” Aaron says. “We need to use all the other tools in the toolbox, as well. There should be local water sustainability plans in place in every water-stressed watershed in the province, led by First Nations and local communities, to guide water management decisions in the ways that make the most sense for their communities. 

“No such plans are in place, and that needs to change.”

Share This Story!

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Leave A Comment

Related Posts