B.C. warns of rising drought levels on Vancouver Island

·2 min read
The Tsolum River near Courtenay, B.C. has been shrinking and getting warmer this summer. The province upgraded most of Vancouver Island to level 3 drought and the Tsolum River watershed to level 4 out of 5. (CHEK News - image credit)
The Tsolum River near Courtenay, B.C. has been shrinking and getting warmer this summer. The province upgraded most of Vancouver Island to level 3 drought and the Tsolum River watershed to level 4 out of 5. (CHEK News - image credit)

Dry and hot conditions on British Columbia's west coast led the government to raise all of Vancouver Island as well as the Haida Gwaii basin to drought level 3 on Saturday.

People who live in eastern Vancouver Island, western Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii are all being asked to reduce their water consumption wherever possible and to respect watering restrictions issued by local and regional governments, water utility providers or irrigation districts.

"The high temperatures, consistent sunshine and lack of recent rain have increased water temperatures in numerous Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii streams," the ministry said in a news release.

"Warmer water temperatures and the lack of precipitation may affect late summer fish-rearing conditions in streams and can affect the timing of salmon spawning migration."

Drought level 4

On the island, the Tsolum River watershed near Courtenay is suffering the worst effects of the current conditions and is at drought level 4.

The province ranks drought levels from 0 to 5, with drought level 5 being the most severe, and almost guaranteeing adverse socioeconomic impacts and negative effects on local ecosystems. Current conditions throughout B.C. can be viewed at the government's drought information portal.

Daytime temperatures in the Courtenay area were 22 degrees Sunday and are expected to go as high as 28 degrees by Tuesday, according to Environment Canada.

Earlier this summer, the Tsolum River Restoration Society said it was worried about the effects warmer, shallower water levels in the river were having on migrating and spawning salmon. Volunteers said they were regularly finding dead juvenile fish and adults were also more vulnerable to prey due to the drought conditions.

Report dead or stranded fish

B.C. says following heat warnings in recent months there have been reports of fish dying or being stranded. High temperatures have also resulted in angling closures for most eastern Vancouver Island streams until Aug. 31.

Stranded or dead fish can be reported to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1 877 952-7277.

Throughout the rest of the province, drought conditions aren't as severe, though the Kettle river basin, which runs from the Keefer Lake in the Central Okanagan's Monashee Mountains down to Rock Creek, near the U.S. border, is at level 3.

The forests ministry says voluntary water use reduction that was already in place in certain regions has kept drought conditions from ramping up and prevented the need for more regulation.

Provincial staff are monitoring the situation closely and if conservation proves to be ineffective on Vancouver Island, the province said it could issue temporary protection orders under the Water Sustainability Act to avoid serious or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystems.