The B.C. government has moved the drought rating for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands to Level 3, which calls for voluntary water conservation measures.
Those voluntary water-use reductions apply to all surface water and groundwater users, including residents, industry, farmers and municipalities, said the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
The heightened concern over drought comes as more dry, warm weather is expected on Vancouver Island in the coming week.
“The flows that we are seeing are not common for this time of year, despite maybe having a couple of years that we have seen it in recent times,” said Dave Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre. “It certainly is an exceptional situation.”
If voluntary water-use reductions are not enough to maintain stream flows above critical levels, water usage may be regulated under the Water Sustainability Act, the ministry said.
That could include temporarily suspending water licences or short-term water approvals. Ministry staff is currently contacting water users to encourage water conservation and to educate users about potential water regulation, the ministry said.
Some streams have adequate flows, but several salmon streams are approaching critically low levels that could threaten the juvenile trout and salmon. Those streams are being closely monitored in case there is a need to implement specific actions to protect fish, the province said.
The Gulf Islands are of particular concern during dry spells because much of the water supply comes from rainfall.
“We appreciate the province bringing in the Level 3 drought indication encouraging people to do water conservation,” said Peter Luckham, chair of the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee. “The savings on water can be significant.”
Luckham said he added an extra water reservoir on his property to capture and store more water when it does rain, but there has not yet been enough precipitation to fill it.
The province has also declared a Level 3 drought rating for the Fort Nelson area in Northern B.C. due to below-normal stream flows and signs of drought in smaller streams.
“Certainly, impacts can range from things like fish habitat but also water availability for irrigation or other water usage,” Campbell said.
Some of the ways homeowners can conserve water include limiting outdoor watering, planting drought-tolerant vegetation and taking shorter showers.
Farmers are being encouraged to make changes to irrigation schedules to reflect weather data, check systems for leaks, and focus on high-value crops and livestock.
Officials are asking industrial water users to reduce non-essential water use, recycle water when it’s possible and use water-efficient methods and equipment.