Summer may have just officially begun, but our watersheds are already feeling the heat. With several converging factors at play, it is hard not to be concerned with the state of B.C.’s watersheds in 2023, and the communities, fish and wildlife that call them home.
It’s the most recent of many threats that prompted Watershed Watch and allies to launch CodeBlue BC, our plan to secure and restore the province’s watersheds.
Following an unprecedented drought in the fall of 2022 that left spawning salmon stranded, we had a relatively mild winter. This was despite it being a La Niña year when we typically expect more storms, rain and elevated snowpacks. At the beginning of April 2023, snowpacks for much of the province were at or below normal levels. In a record-hot May, much of the snow that accumulated in the mountains melted off, and what remains is much less than what we usually have at this time of year.
The hot weather and rapid snow melt brought flooding to Cache Creek and Grand Forks, but otherwise, flood risk for most communities was fortunately low.
However, it did jump-start the wildfire season in B.C., with the Donnie Creek fire burning in Northeastern B.C. now estimated to be the province’s largest wildfire ever.
We’re regularly seeing climate change bring extreme weather, and in the current conditions, much of the province will likely experience severe drought over the summer. The fall and winter are not forecast to provide much reprieve, as after three La Niña years, we are shifting back to warmer El Niño conditions. Unseasonably dry, hot weather is impacting our rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers, but (mis)management of our watersheds over the last several decades is making those impacts much worse. The scale and intensity of the fires, floods and droughts are aggravated by poor land use decisions and unfettered resource extraction. Rampant clearcut logging and other mismanagement of our watersheds puts our communities at greater risk, significantly increasing disaster recovery costs, and degrading our natural environment, making it less resilient to the effects of global warming.
To ensure future generations of British Columbians and wild salmon have cool, clean freshwater in a changing climate, we need to safeguard our watersheds. That’s why Watershed Watch joined forces with our allies to form CodeBlue BC, a plan to secure B.C.’s watersheds. The CodeBlue plan has three goals:
- Increased fines for water polluters.
- More local decision-making power.
- Funding for communities to defend and restore their home watersheds.
While the current conditions and predictions are scary, there’s still good reason for cautious optimism. British Columbians are paying attention to watershed issues and taking action to defend freshwater. The CodeBlue BC community on Facebook continues to grow, now with over 32,000 followers.
The province is in the final stages of developing a B.C. Watershed Security Strategy that emphasizes co-management of the province’s watersheds with First Nations and local governments. One thousand members of the CodeBlue BC community wrote to the province to provide feedback on that strategy.
The province also committed earlier this year to the development of a $100 million Watershed Security Fund, following pressure from Watershed Watch and other water organizations, and over 5,000 emails from the CodeBlue BC community. Funds will go towards projects that benefit wild salmon, increase natural flood and fire defences, and protect drinking water sources. But, that $100 million is a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s needed because it will only spend the annual interest; about $5 million, give or take. That doesn’t go very far when you consider the billions of dollars in damage caused by floods, fires, and resource extraction to our watersheds every year. That’s why we will continue to advocate for additional investments in B.C.’s watersheds.
Another piece of good news is that B.C.’s first Water Sustainability Plan, for Vancouver Island’s Koksilah River, is proceeding following a historic agreement signed by the province and Cowichan Tribes.
While there is progress, there is much more to be done. While we work to improve long-term watershed security, we will also be keeping pressure on the province over the coming months to make sure that they use the tools at their disposal to protect critical flows for salmon and other species in our rivers if extreme drought conditions occur — and we will raise hell if the province fails to take appropriate action.
If you want to take action to defend B.C.’s watersheds, please visit codebluebc.ca and add your voice.