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Drought Looms Due to BC’s Low Snowpack, Experts Urge New Mindset

If the snowpack in BC’s mountains is like a bank savings account–because it stores water for hard dry times–the province is dangerously in the red.

BC’s snowpack is averaging just 66% of what has been normal in the past, the provincial government said in its latest Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin.


Side-by-side handout images, shown in infrared, taken by the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellite show the Quesnel River as it meets the Fraser River in Quesnel, B.C., in May 2023, left, compared with May 2024. Image credit courtesy of the European Union and Canadian Space Agency

Making matters worse, May temperatures are now spiking above normal, and the timing of spring’s snowmelt–known as freshet– is expected to be early. “An accelerated spring melt is the most likely scenario over May and June,” said the report.

Last year BC’s snowpack was 91%-and last year we experienced brutal drought. This year a much lower snowpack suggests we can expect another severe drought. 

As water expert Oliver Brandes told the Vancouver Sun recently, “The new reality is that drought is longer, persistent and more predictable … It really requires a shift in mindset.” 

The snowpack affects almost everyone and everything in BC.  Farmers and ranchers rely on snowpack to produce food. When waterways run dry the animals and plants that rely on them suffer, like the salmon in the Cowichan River last year that experienced a massive die-off. Hydro electricity relies on seasonal snow to fill reservoirs to provide power throughout the year to BC’s communities and industries. BC has already warned the oil and gas sector, a heavy user of water for multiple uses including hydraulic fracking, of possible restrictions in water use.

Areas of particular concern in this latest report–especially for the salmon runs that are vital to BC’s commercial fisheries as well as ecosystems–are Vancouver Island (49% of normal), the Lower Thompson (23%), and Upper Fraser West (0%). The Northwest Basin and Liard basins are rare bright spots, with more snow than average.

The province has already taken some steps in anticipation of drought, but there’s much more work to be done to secure BC’s freshwater and ensure that our communities have enough freshwater to support farmers, fish, businesses, and residents. 

In a recent opinion piece in The Narwhal Brandes provided a laundry list of items BC needs to tackle: 

  1. Develop a provincial drought plan that makes meaningful triggers to the legal tools that are available to us
  2. Create regional drought plans so we know, when there’s limited water, how we’re going to share it
  3. Establish critical flow thresholds in high-risk areas
  4. Increase investments in watershed security
  5. Take advantage of recent changes to regulation and fine water wasters and polluters who cause harm to our watersheds
  6. Increase water license fees for industrial water users so licenses reflect the true

CodeBlue has long supported more funding to secure and restore our watersheds and has also called for more transparency and tougher fines for industrial water users, wasters and polluters. 

If you are concerned about drought and want to speak up, please send a letter to the Premier and BC’s Water Minister Nathan Cullen


May 1, 2024 Snow Basin Indices courtesy of the BC River Forecast Centre. To read the full snowpack report click here

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  • CodeBlue B.C.
    published this page in Stories 2024-05-10 14:58:44 -0700