B.C. is not yet safe from wildfires
B.C. is clearly not out of the woods yet as wildfires continue to burn, and many communities face fall drought conditions. Rain and colder weather have arrived, but it has not been enough to ease the drought conditions in over half of B.C.’s water basins. As of November 9, 8 water basins remain at drought level 3 (severely dry), another 6 are at drought level 4 (extremely dry), and 3 are at drought level 5 (exceptionally dry).
According to experts, including Oliver Brandes, co-director of the University of Victoria's POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, drought is no longer regional, “short-term, temporary, and unexpected.” Instead, droughts are now “happening everywhere all at once,’' and we cannot simply “ride them out” as we did in the past.
Map credit: Province of B.C., Drought Information Portal
This is a reality that many communities in B.C. are currently trying to deal with, as drought conditions are impacting everything from ranchers’ ability to afford hay to mayors’ being able to ensure their communities will have drinking water. This is exactly the case in McBride, where a state of local emergency has been extended until at least November 13 as a result of drought level 5 conditions.
McBride’s sole water source is Dominion Creek, The creek relies on snowmelt from Lucille Mountain, which often has snow on it into August. This year, all the snow was gone by June.
The struggles that McBride has had in dealing with its water shortage speak to the province’s inability to deal with the fact that drought is now “happening everywhere all at once.” Currently, many communities, including McBride, rely heavily on the province for issues related to water and water security. But the province is like an absentee landlord. This can cause costly delays, which is a reality McBride is currently facing. Presently, the community does not have the data needed to make informed decisions about its water shortage. As McBride’s mayor told CBC, “We are really working with a situation that we do not have data, and that's what just absolutely kills you.”
When a wildfire threatens a structure, like someone’s home, the BC Wildfire Service deploys Structure Protection Specialists (SPS) to triage and coordinate structural defence. Photo and Caption Credit: BC Wildfire Service.
Clearly, the province has failed in its duty to proactively prevent the water shortage McBride is now facing. This has resulted in the community having to bring in a hydrologist to collect the data needed. However, this much-needed data will not be ready for another week, close to two months after a state of emergency was initially declared for McBride. It is hard not to see this as a failure on the part of the province.
That being said, managing the province’s water in what amounts to an almost perpetual state of drought is no easy task, which is why CodeBlueBC supports the establishment of local watershed boards across the province so local communities have the power and resources to address threats to their watershed security with real solutions. By focusing on their unique watershed situations, local watershed boards are much better positioned to develop appropriate local solutions, including collecting data in a timely manner so decision-making is not delayed.
To be clear, this does NOT mean offloading government responsibilities to local people. We need the Province to do ITS part to enable local watershed boards, including providing sustainable resources and enforcing the rules against big water wasters and polluters.
It is time that local watershed boards become the norm in B.C.