Vancouver Islanders urged to conserve water amid early drought

Residents of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and northeast B.C. are being urged to conserve water as drought conditions arrive earlier than usual.

Provincial officials have declared a level-3 drought for those areas, which triggers a call for voluntary 20 to 30 per cent reductions in water use. Current drought conditions are similar to what’s seen in July and August.

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“We are definitely seeing low [stream] flows for this time of year,” said Dave Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre. “In some ways, we are almost pushing into level 4.”

The water situation is less of a worry for Greater Victoria, where the Sooke Lake Reservoir was at 92.8 per cent of capacity on Friday. Capital Regional District officials say water needs will likely be met through the summer.

B.C. measures drought using a four-level system. Level 1 means sufficient water exists to meet human and ecosystem needs. At level 4, the highest, water levels are deemed insufficient and the province has the authority to require reductions in water use.

That can include decreasing the amount of water provincial water-licence holders are allowed to take. Water licences are required of major users, such as farmers or industry, as well as some homeowners who use surface water.

Friday’s announcement comes at the end of a spring season, March to May, that Environment Canada said has been one of the driest ever recorded on Vancouver Island. Comox Airport, for example, recorded only 34.4 per cent of its average precipitation in the driest spring since 1895, when record-keeping began.

Parts of Greater Victoria have recorded 75 per cent of normal rainfall.

Despite a good supply of water in reservoirs, the CRD — with a stage 1 conservation level — is asking residents to restrict water use, including watering lawns only twice a week.

Even-numbered houses can water lawns Wednesdays and Saturdays between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Odd-numbered houses can water lawns Thursdays and Sundays during the same hours.

The CRD said conserving water is a sensible step that will leave plenty of supply for emergencies such as fighting fires.

Nanaimo said it is at conservation level 2, but like the CRD, the Nanaimo Regional District has so far only requested voluntary restrictions, such as watering lawns every other day. Its chief water supply, Jump Lake Reservoir, is at normal levels for this time of year.

The provincial Technical Drought Working Group is expected to continue to monitor drought levels and issue updates.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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