It’s drought level 4 in the East Vancouver Island Basin, including the Gulf Islands, the province announced July 9.
One of only two regions in the province at level four out of a maximum five, it comes with a warning that “adverse impacts on people or ecosystems are likely.” High water temperatures and low flow conditions are causing adverse impacts to fish, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said in a press release.
The heat wave in June resulted in record high water temperatures, Julie Pisani, program coordinator for the Regional District of Nanaimo’s drinking water and watershed protection department. Water temperatures above 17 degrees celsius can cause loss of aquatic life.
While low flow data collection on streams has yet to take place for 2021 – measurements are taken in August at the typical driest time of the year, Pisani said they are seeing those conditions roughly a month early.
“We’ve seen this intermittently over the years, it’s not as predictable when the low flows are going to arrive.”
That includes Mallett Creek on Gabriola, part of the RDN’s community watershed monitoring network. Pisani said from 2015 to 2020, dissolved oxygen in the creek has been improving over time, an indicator of improved flows but also lower nutrient input.
Gabriola Streamkeepers’s Kyle Clifford, along with Marilyn Heraty, has been taking measurements at Mallett Creek for six years. In mid-July, the creek had the lowest flow level Clifford has ever observed.
Meanwhile, the Coats Marsh shallow-water wetland appears to be within normal range, according to Nick Doe who has been observing the area for a number of years.
“This is thanks to the work of the beavers who have increased the storage capacity by one metre with their dam, and we had enough rain … in January to fill it up,” Doe said. “The lake is lower than it has been in some years past but still higher than it has been in others.”
RDN monitoring wells on Gabriola suggest groundwater levels are similar to surface water: Pre-summer June readings indicate levels are more similar to what is typical in early August, Pisani said.
“Many of the streams locally would have connection to groundwater,” Pisani explained. “If groundwater is being drawn down and it’s also dropping due to lack of precipitation, that can have effect on stream flows and also stream temperatures.”
The RDN is focusing on encouraging conservation of ground and surface water to help protect aquatic life like fish. The regional district moved to stage 3 of 4 water restrictions on June 29. Though Electoral Area B is not subject to the restrictions, stage 3 calls on residents to voluntarily cut back on non-essential outdoor watering like power washing and lawn sprinkling.
Pisani stressed that curtailing non-essential water use is key at this time; lack of water for drinking and indoor use is not a concern for the RDN right now.
“Gabriolans already do a lot in terms of water conservation,” Pisani said, but encouraged actions for all RDN residents like fixing leaks, collecting rainwater and preserving natural vegetation and soil, which helps store water.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder