Severe Water Shortages in Canada
On September 21, WaterToday posted a ‘Severe Water Shortage’ advisory for McBride in British Columbia. This option has been available for many years on our advisory system, but it was seldom used as there were few severe shortages. This is no longer the case.
The myth of Canada’s water abundance is slowly melting away like the snows on the Rocky Mountain Peaks. There are increasing instances of water shortages across the country, mostly in western Canada. Excerpts of current news items provide a glimpse on how our warming climate is affecting our water systems.
Tofino faces a water crisis
[Forty years ago], the Tla-oqui-aht First Nation was instrumental in halting the logging on Meares, retaining the mosses among the old growth that hold moisture like a sponge and release it to the creeks even during dry periods.
That’s important, because Tofino is experiencing the driest months in recorded history — it last rained about three weeks ago, said [Mayor] Law. To put that in perspective, since May 1, Tofino has received 19 millimetres of rain in total. On average, cumulative rain for the period is 249 mm.
A drought so early in the summer pushed the community on July 10 to Stage 3 water restrictions, which prohibit all outdoor use of water, including outdoor showers and taps, pool or hot tub fill-ups and grass, landscape or food-plant watering. The province, meanwhile, has declared all of Vancouver Island at Drought Level 5, the highest level.
City officials say the Bow River's flow is the lowest it's been since records were first kept in 1911
Restrictions on the outdoor use of water will continue into the fall, though the measure has led to a “noticeable decrease” in consumption over the past month, says the city.
Since it was implemented on Aug. 15 due to drought and record-low river levels — the first time such measures have ever been used in response to those factors — the restrictions have helped reduce water use by more than 800-million litres, said city officials.
While indoor consumption hasn't been affected, residents and businesses have been instructed to water their lawns, trees or shrubs only one day per week, and for two hours during that time.
Pumps added to weir at Lake Cowichan as water level drop to historic lows
Twenty pumps are now working overtime to keep water flowing through the weir at Lake Cowichan into the Cowichan River. Brian Houle, the environmental manager with Catalyst Paper, says the pumps are necessary as the drought continues to impact the lake.
“We’ll continue pumping until the lake is filled by Mother Nature. And optimistically next week, we have significant rain next week. And potentially a major system the week after,” Houle said.
But even with the pumps working around the clock at the weir, no rain means water levels are dropping by almost a centimetre every day.
And the lake is now at a historic low.
“The lake level is down eight inches,” Houle said.
A state of local emergency has been declared in a village in central British Columbia as drought increases in severity across the province.
As of midnight Wednesday, residents of McBride, a Robson Valley community about 180 kilometres southeast of Prince George, are prohibited from washing vehicles or the exteriors of buildings, filling up swimming pools, or watering lawns and gardens.
"Dominion Creek, which supplies the McBride Community Drinking Water System, is experiencing extremely low flows due to the ongoing, severe drought conditions," said a statement on the village's website. A water usage restriction order from the village, which has a population of around 600 people, said the prohibitions are needed "to ensure adequate water supply for drinking, fire protection and sanitary service."
McBride Fire Chief David Hruby, who is also a farmer, said the drought conditions are the worst he's ever seen in his more than four-decade career. He lives in the nearby community of Dominion Creek.
"This is the first time that we've ever been at this level," he said. "[There's] barely any water flowing through there."
'Sleeping giant of a natural disaster'
For weeks, the vast majority of B.C. — 80 per cent according to provincial officials — has been experiencing drought levels at or near the top of the province's 0-5 classification system.
On Sept. 14, the province raised the drought level in the Robson Valley to Level 5, which means that "adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are almost certain" and an emergency response is called for
In McBride, residents were issued a water conservation notice in May that included year-round sprinkling restrictions. On July 11, the village asked for additional voluntary water conservation as conditions worsened.
On its website, it says those measures "have not resulted in reduced water use."
"Water usage restrictions are necessary to ensure essential community services like drinking water, sanitary service and fire protection can be provided during this period of drought," it said.
The village said ice-making and other water use will be permitted at local community and recreation centres, but steps are being taken by both the village and the regional district to reduce water consumption at those facilities.