Drought warning issued for Island, flow of rivers is low

The province has issued a level-three drought warning for Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and the Gulf Islands following weeks of hot, dry weather.

A number of fish-bearing rivers and streams on the Island — including the Koksilah, Chemainus, San Juan and Salmon Rivers — are approaching critically low levels.

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”We’re just starting to see the beginning of potentially serious consequences,” said Valerie Cameron, a water manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“Typically we’d start to see these conditions in August. So we’re a little bit ahead of the normal schedule for these dry conditions for this time of year.”

The level three or “very dry” rating applies along the coast from the Alaska border to the Lower Mainland.

British Columbians — including municipalities, industries and farmers — are being urged to voluntarily reduce their water usage.

“Everywhere you go within the region, we’re expecting that conditions are very dry,” Cameron said.

“Now, how people respond to that dryness depends on their municipality and their watering restrictions.”

The Capital Regional District remains at stage-one watering restrictions due to the fact that the Sooke Reservoir is still more than 80 per cent full. Under the restrictions, lawn watering is permitted 4 to 10 a.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays for even-numbered addresses, and Thursdays and Sundays for odd-numbered.

Cameron said voluntary conservation measures have been successful in the past and officials are hoping they will be sufficient this year to protect rivers and fish on Vancouver Island.

In 2017, officials noticed a bump in waters levels in the Koksilah River after the agriculture community pulled together and voluntarily reduced water withdrawals, Cameron said. “So it was pretty remarkable.”

If voluntary conservation measures fail, provincial officials have powers under the Water Sustainability Act to regulate water use, possibly by suspending water licences or short-term water approvals.

Fishing closures could go into effect if the hot weather continues to reduce stream flows, the province said.

“We don’t want to have to regulate, but we will if we need to,” Cameron said.

Much depends on the weather, and there could be some relief from the extended hot spell today.

Greater Victoria was under another heat advisory for much of Monday, with temperatures near 30 C in some areas.

The heat advisory was lifted later in the day and Environment Canada said cooler marine air will push onto the coast Tuesday.

Environment Canada also issued an air quality statement Monday for Victoria, Saanich and the West Shore due to the impact of smoke from wildfires.

People were advised to stay inside if they have breathing difficulties and consider going to an air-conditioned public space rather than opening windows at home.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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