Snowpack levels feeding into Nanaimo reservoir down significantly

Snowpack levels that feed into Nanaimo's Jump Lake fresh water reservoir are significantly down from last year, but officials are not yet overly concerned.

Bill Sims, water resources manager for the city, said his department is keeping a close eye on how the situation develops and have so far held off on releasing water from the Jump Creek dam to build up reserves.

He said an unusually dry winter has put a strain on snowpacks, which melt and flow into the watershed to top up Nanaimo's water supply later in the year. The water is stored in the Jump Lake and South Fork reservoirs, which are managed by the city with dams.

Normally by the middle of January, the city sees about 30 to 40 per cent of the annual snowpack formed. So far this year, the snowpack is only about five per cent formed, Sims said. That could change in the coming months, he added.

"This time of year, it's really unusual to have a winter drought, (but) it's not unheard of."

"Let's say we're watching it carefully," he said. "We're not overly concerned at this point. But we're watching it carefully."

"When you get into May and June, that's when we want to make sure that Jump Lake is full and ready for summer demand."

The city is facing a number of water-related challenges. City residents are expected to consume 20,000 million litres of water annually by 2020, when officials estimate the city will have to increase its water supply. The city is looking at securing a water licensing agreement with Harmac Pacific, which operates its own dam at Fourth Lake.

Another problem is finalizing a long-term water sharing agreement with the District of Lantzville, highlighted by city manager Ted Swabey in a recent chamber of commerce speech.

Nanaimo council has voted to have their city's staff members negotiate the terms of an agreement with their Lantzville counterparts. Lantzville has struggled with water contamination issues and a limited supply of the resource.

Lantzville Mayor Jack de Jong said discussions are taking place at the staff level now.

"I believe at the political level we have overcome a huge hurdle," he said.

"I'm optimistic that some deal can be hammered out."

Sims said that challenges such as the immediate snowpack issue is the sort of challenge that could prove more troublesome in future as the city's long-term water pressures become more urgent.

Sims said his department will continue to monitor the situation.

If the trend does not turn around, Sims said staff members will begin discussing possible water restrictions if there is a need.


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