British Columbia

Drought danger grows as some parts of B.C. see no rain for almost 5 weeks

Late June's deadly "heat dome" and lack of rainfall have some regions already reaching Level 4 on the province's five-level drought classification scale.

On a drought level scale of 1 to 5, some coastal and Interior regions are hovering at 4

The B.C. government drought ratings for eastern Vancouver Island and the Salmon River and Kettle River basins are currently at four on a scale of one to five. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

While some parts of British Columbia could see a raindrop or two this week the warm temperatures and sunny skies dominating the forecast for most of the province do not bode well for flora and fauna already fighting drought conditions.

According to the province's Drought and Water Scarcity Response Plan, which was last updated in May, drought conditions are classified on a scale of one to five.

The Kettle River and Salmon River basins in the Interior are currently hovering at Level 4, as is east Vancouver Island.

At Level 4, conditions are extremely dry, water restrictions are likely in effect and adverse effects on ecosystems are possible. 

While temperatures cooled over the South Coast over the weekend, and some people in the region saw scattered showers, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said the Environment Canada weather station at the Vancouver International Airport did not measure any precipitation during those two days — making it 33 days without rain on the runway.

A snapshot from the province's drought information map on July 19. Areas in red are classified at Level 4. Areas in dark orange are classified at Level 3, the tan colour identifies Level 2 and yellow is Level 1. (British Columbia Drought Information Portal)

Central and northern B.C. residents can expect some rain Monday, but Wagstaffe says another week of sunshine and above seasonal temperatures are forecast for the southern part of the province and the next chance of showers for Metro Vancouver might not be until July 27.

Tinder-like conditions have contributed to out-of-control wildfires in the Interior and water restrictions in coastal island communities.

Danger to ecosystems

If drought conditions continue, there will be other prices to pay for B.C. ecosystems, ecologist John Richardson says.

"A lot of the small streams will start to basically dry up at the surface. Further downstream, the bigger streams will recede to these little isolated pools where any fish or amphibians or invertebrates will get basically trapped and very vulnerable to predators," said Richardson, speaking Monday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Those small bodies of water could then get so hot they become inhospitable to survive in, said Richardson, a professor of aquatic and riparian-area ecology at the University of British Columbia.

He said coastal B.C. is particularly at risk of drought because of the area's shallow soil, due to the fact that the area was covered by glaciers about 15,000 years ago. 

"That means there isn't a great amount of storage of water below the surface, so the soils will be drying out [and] the trees will be stressed trying to tap out that last little bit of water," said Richardson.

Conserving water

Officials are asking people and businesses to conserve water in all areas affected by drought.

This includes abiding by water bylaws that limit outdoor watering, but also taking shorter showers and not leaving taps running.

In future years, storing water on site could be a huge help for British Columbians who otherwise depend on well water, like residents of the Gulf Islands.

Rainwater harvesting and filtration systems could play a key part in this, says Gord Baird with the Capital Regional District (CRD) Regional Water Supply Commission, who designs and installs the systems on southern Vancouver Island through his company Eco-Sense.

They work by using a large surface area — usually the roof of a home — to collect water, rather than letting it run off. The water is redirected instead into barrels or cisterns so it can be stored for future use.

A garden shed outfitted with a simple rain water harvesting and storage system. Water that is used for drinking purposes should also include a filtration system. (Shutterstock / Delovely Pics)

"It really depends on the area, but generally we can collect what we need to meet our needs for the year," said Baird, speaking to CBC's On The Island.

According to Baird, the CRD estimates every person in the district uses about 272 litres of water daily — around 100,000 litres a year — and the average household has the potential to collect about 45,000 to 95,000 litres annually.

Richardson says planning now for the future is critical, especially as climate change speeds up the melting of glaciers and annual snowpacks that supply water to delicate ecosystems and hydroelectric projects.

"We really need to be thinking about long-term water supplies," said Richardson.

You can see the current drought levels in B.C. at anytime by visiting the provincial drought information portal.

With files from The Early Edition, On The Island

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