British Columbia

Summer water shortage could hit South Coast of B.C., official warns

Officials in B.C. are worried a lack of snow in the South Coast mountains could lead to water supply problems for the Vancouver area this summer.

Believe it or not, officials in B.C. are worried a lack of snow in the South Coast mountains could lead to water supply problems for the Vancouver area this summer.

The news will likely come as a surprise to many southwestern B.C. residents who spent the past month battling record snowfalls and then mudslides and flooding brought on by the melting snow. 

But Allan Chapman of the River Forecast Centre, which tracks snowpacks across the province to predict water levels, said Monday that while it's been exceptionally snowy around sea level, it's a different story at higher elevations in the mountains.

As many skiers can confirm, the snowpack in B.C.'s mountains has been scant this year, particularly at Whistler, where the snowpack was at record-low levels before some recent major storms.

"I think there was a belief that the snow right up to the top of the mountains was above normal, but in fact, the snow was pretty darn close to being a record low," said Chapman.

And despite last week's heavy snowfalls, snowpacks on the South Coast and on Vancouver Island remain well below normal, according to official estimates.

"We're seeing the snowpacks at 60 or 70 per cent. That's definitely well enough below normal that it gets us concerned about the spring," he said.

Because the majority of the area's water supply starts as snow and goes into the rivers, lakes and creeks, the low levels may have an impact on that supply if the snowpack does not increase significantly by spring, he warned.

"Most of the water … that provides the water for people to drink, most of that comes from snow, and when we see the snow numbers so low, it does get us concerned," said Chapman.

The long-range forecast calls for more snow in the mountains over the next few months, but Chapman said those forecasts are typically unreliable.

The rest of the province is faring much better following a series of recent storms, according to Chapman.

"As of Jan. 9, the northern half of the province, including the Skeena, Nass, Peace, Liard and Stikine basins, has above normal snowpacks. The Upper Fraser, Nechako and Thompson basins are all near normal. The Kootenay, Columbia, Okanagan, Kettle and Similkameen basins received very heavy snowfalls on Jan. 6 to 8, but remain slightly below normal," said a statement released by Chapman.