Dry weather leads to drought conditions, possible water shortage

Water levels in Skeena and Bulkley watersheds near drought like conditions as dry weather affects more than just forest fires.

A long spell of dry weather has left water levels in watersheds in the Skeena and Bulkley regions low, raising concerns about drought conditions in both watersheds.

In a press release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO), residents in the Skeena and Bulkley regions, which includes the community of Burns Lake, are being urged to reduce water consumption.

According to the ministry with weather conditions expected to remain dry, the Skeena and Bulkley regions are experiencing level three drought conditions.

Level three drought conditions call for the voluntary reduction of water use by 20 per cent or more from all municipal, agriculture and industrial users, and residents within these regions are being urged to obey municipal water conservation bylaws.

The River Forecast Centre has issued a low stream flow advisory for the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers and their tributaries as weather conditions continue to have a negative affect on water levels.

According to Greig Bethel, Public Affairs Officer for the MFLNRO water levels in rivers and lakes are near minimum levels for this time of the year, although well above the lowest levels that are reached during the winter months.

“Typically the lowest flows and lake levels occur over the winter period, so the flows that are currently being observed are low relative to what is normal for this time of year, but they are still well above levels that would typically be reached through the winter,” Bethel said.

The low flow conditions are a result of persistent dry and hot weather over the summer, as well as lower than normal snow packs this year, according to Bethel.

“April 1 snow packs were 85 per cent of normal in the Skeena Basin, including the Bulkley region, and 80 per cent of normal in the Nechako Basin,” Bethel said, “Precipitation has been about 50-70 per cent of normal through July and 40 per cent through August.”

According to stats from the MFLNRO, temperatures in the region were also one to two degrees about normal in June and two to four degrees about normal through July.

Staff from the MFLNRO have been closely monitoring water levels and the drought level could rise if the current trend of hot and dry weather holds up.

A level four drought condition is the highest rating given by the MFLNRO.

Drought levels are determined by a number of factors, including regional stream flow, water storage capacity, ecological concerns, weather forecasts and impacts on water users.

If conditions reach a point where level four drought conditions are issued then provincial water managers could exercise their authority to temporarily suspend short-term water permits or licenses in the affected watersheds.

Bethel says that a level three declaration by the ministry indicates that there could be possible ecological and socioeconomical impacts, but that these impacts can be mitigated by residents observing water conservation bylaws and practices.

The salmon population has become a concern due to the conditions, too.

Low water levels impede the passage of salmon to spawning grounds, increase susceptibility to disease or can cause stranding or death due to low oxygen and high water temperatures.

The Village of Burns Lake contributes significantly to water conservation.

There are watering restrictions between the months of September and May, and this year an additional program was started that sees the capturing of water flushed from hydrants to clean the water lines and used to clean and wash the streets.

According to Rick Martin, Director of Public Works for the Village of Burns Lake, this new program has resulted in more than 20,000 gallons of water being saved.

The MFLNRO has released tips for water users on how to deal with the drought conditions that are afflicting the area.

Water users at home are encouraged to limit watering outdoors and to not water during the heat of the day or when there are heavy winds, take shorter showers and to not leave the tap running among other things.

Water users in the agriculture industry are encouraged to implement an irrigation scheduling program using real time weather data, schedule irrigation to match crop needs and soil storage capacity, improve water system efficiencies and check for leaks and focus on high value crops and livestock.

In the industrial sector it is essential that businesses reduce non-essential water usage, recycle water used in industrial operations and utilize water efficient methods and equipment.

Besides the tips, Bethel says the biggest impact residents of the affected communities can have are becoming aware of negative impacts of deteriorating conditions.

“Communities should include drought contingency planning in their local emergency plans,” Bethel said, “Be observant of any negative impacts to ecosystems and water supplies caused by the deteriorating conditions.”


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