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B.C.’s south coast moved to highest drought level

Metro Vancouver has no plans to ramp up water restrictions despite the provincial government announcing a Stage 4 drought Wednesday in British Columbia’s most heavily populated region: the south coast and Lower Fraser area.
The government of B.C. has announced a Level 4 drought rating for the south coast and Lower Fraser areas.

Metro Vancouver has no plans to ramp up water restrictions despite the provincial government announcing a Stage 4 drought Wednesday in British Columbia’s most heavily populated region: the south coast and Lower Fraser area.

The Stage 4 drought designation, brought on by a record-low snow pack, low rainfall and soaring temperatures, is the province’s highest level, and opens the door for government to begin restricting water licenses in the future if conditions worsen, said Forests Minister Steve Thomson, noting that conditions are likely to get drier in the coming days and weeks.

B.C.’s water laws are built on a “first in time, first in right” rule, where companies and users with the newest licences are the first to be cut off if government restricts the extraction of surface or groundwater.

“The lowest priority … would be the ones that would be first potentially impacted and have reduced flow under their licences,” said Thomson. “That’s a step we could take.”

A Stage 4 drought rating means conditions are so dry that further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and impact people, industry such as agriculture, and wildlife and fish stocks.

All users are being urged to maximize their water conservation efforts.

Thomson noted that the province’s move does not mean Metro Vancouver is required to increase its water conservation requirements for household users.

“Our assessment conditions, our levels, run differently than the local government’s classifications systems,” said Thomson.

Metro Vancouver has indicated that it will not increase regional restrictions from today’s Level 2, in which lawn sprinkling is limited to once a week, to a Level 3 rating, in which all lawn sprinkling is restricted.

“We’re still monitoring it very closely and we need to see the effects of level 2,” said North Vancouver city mayor Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s utilities committee. “At this point in time, while our reservoirs are stressed, the engineers are still confident that if we abide by Level 2 restrictions and reduce our water consumption and people are vigilant with water use, we should be able to get through with Level 2.”

Mussatto said the region typically gets rain from now to September, but that if it doesn’t over the next month or so, “we’ll reassess for sure.”

It’s not the first time B.C. has escalated drought conditions, though it is the first time the Lower Mainland has reached Stage Four status.

In the past, Thomson said, the government has had to step in and use the Fish Protection Act to restrict water access to a user in order to protect fish habitat.

But his ministry said it cannot recall any time in the past decade in which it has had to restrict water licences in the Lower Mainland, or curtail the use of water by high-use businesses.

Both the Lower Mainland and South Fraser drought ratings were last adjusted on June 30, when they were increased to Stage 3. Although some rivers in the Howe Sound and Squamish areas are near normal for this time of year, other streams in the South Coast and Lower Fraser are well below normal.

While there are no angling closures in the two regions at this time, fisheries biologists are monitoring approximately 60 key angling streams throughout the province and, if conditions warrant, closures are possible.

Closures have already affected streams on southern Vancouver Island, the South Okanagan and the Horsefly River in the Cariboo.

Meanwhile, people throughout the region are implementing their own methods of saving water.

Alex Russell, owner of Russell Communications in Vancouver, said she now takes “navy showers,” which she learned in Girl Guides more than three decades ago.

“You get wet quickly, turn off the running water while soaping up/lathering up, and rinse off quickly. You can be in and out in less than two minutes.

“You can also turn off the tap when you brush your teeth.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Veronica Cheng said she’s washing her store-bought vegetables in a bucket and then using the same water to water her garden.

She plans to place a big bucket in her shower to collect cold water while the shower’s heating up, and then reuse that water in her garden.

The Vancouver Sun’s food and sustainability writer, Randy Shore, said the Sunshine Coast is now under a Stage 3 watering restrictions, which means it’s impossible for him to water his entire garden.

“I decided about one month ago to retire a big chunk of space from vegetable production and planted a cover crop of fall rye to keep the soil intact. I have also covered several beds with shredded leaves to keep the sun from baking the soil dry and lined all my paths with wood chips to maintain a little more moisture below the surface. Crops that have run their course, such as strawberries and asparagus, will get no water at all from here on in. Neither will the potatoes; they will just cure below the ground and wait until I need them.”

On Vancouver Island, the only other Stage 4 drought region in the province, Nanaimo city council has cancelled its Slide The City event that would see a street turned into a giant water slide next month.

“We have severe drought and the community is very conscious of water restrictions,” said Tom Hickey, the city’s general manager of community services, in an interview.

The number of wildfires burning in the province has dipped to 175 but a campfire ban remains in place across B.C., with the exception of Haida Gwaii and the fog zone along the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The latest forecast shows that weather conditions will be mainly sunny for the next several days.