British Columbia

Salt Spring drought turns summer into battle zone for apple farmer

Now is the summer of dehydration for Salt Spring Island apple farmer Harry Burton with dryness made critical by water reservoir levels at its lowest volumes in decades.

Gulf Island residents sacrificing playing fields and pool time but still no rain in sight

While this year's level three drought is considered an "anomaly" on Salt Spring Island, the past few years have seen extreme level four drought as the island's water supply continues to dry up. (Meghan McKee/North Salt Spring Waterworks District)

Now is the summer of dehydration for Salt Spring Island apple farmer Harry Burton with dryness made critical by water reservoir levels at its lowest volumes in decades.

Only 10.4 millimetres of rain has fallen since last May, making this the driest spell since the 1970s.

The dry spell has sparked an "Every Drop Counts" campaign to curb water use, on an island with no streams, and a winnowing aquifer.

"Most people look forward to summer, but it makes summer inhospitable really it's just something you have to fight," says Burton, owner of AppleLuscious Organic Orchards. The hot weather has made this summer a constant battle to save 400 saplings from the heat, with mulch his only hope.

"It's totally paradoxical. If I mulch my trees the chickens will come and scratch the mulch off so I have to put a fence around to keep the chickens from scratching away the mulch - so throw in deer and rabbits and you have a real hodgepodge!"

Salt Spring apple farmer, Harry Burton, is in a battle with heat and sun to keep his 400 new apple trees alive, and relying on truck loads of mulch and a quick eye to stop his chickens from undoing his good work.

For other residents the dry spell means tough restrictions: limited watering, no pool filling or car washing. But things may get worse.

Salt Spring is in a Stage 3 drought, with the St. Mary Lake's level mere centimetres from the tipping point to Stage 4 drought, when water becomes limited to domestic use only,

Meghan McKee, of North Salt Spring Water works, says if the lake falls to 40.0 metres above sea level then the fish ladder no longer works and the fish can't swim upstream. The lake currently stands at 40.47 metres above sea level-- more than 20 centimetres below where it usually sits this time of year.

The water levels are critically low on Salt Spring Island, as shown by the dipping lines representing the falling levels of island reservoir St. Mary Lake. (The North Salt Spring Water Works)

"I think the biggest impact at this time is to the parks and playing fields in the school district playing fields are built on sand so they are very hot during the drought and basically the grass is dying.We are going to see some damage before this is done," says McKee.

For now residents are urged to conserve water, and keep an eye on the water levels in the hope that soon some rain will touch the island.


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