‘Scary situation’: Unprecedented snowpack lows raising B.C. drought concerns

Click to play video: 'Record low snowpack levels raise summer drought concerns'
Record low snowpack levels raise summer drought concerns
WATCH: Watershed experts warn B.C. is at risk of a province-wide drought this summer because of record low snowpack levels. They're calling on the provincial government to take action. Global News Morning speaks with Aaron Hill from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society about the concerns. – Feb 9, 2024

With spring a little over a month away, environmentalists are raising early alarms about the likelihood of summer drought.

British Columbia’s average snowpack is almost 40 per cent lower than normal for this time of year, according to the latest bulletin. It’s “particularly scary” on Vancouver Island and along the South Coast, where it ranges from 30 per cent of normal to 47 per cent of normal in the Lower Fraser region, according to the Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“It’s a scary situation,” he told Global News on Friday, adding that these are “unprecedented lows” approaching springtime.

“If we get drought conditions like we had last summer, when we went into the last summer with a much bigger snowpack and had unprecedented drought across the province, if could actually be even worse.”

Click to play video: 'Low snowpack sparks drought concerns in B.C.'
Low snowpack sparks drought concerns in B.C.

Last summer, B.C. experienced one of the most severe droughts in its history, with 27 of 34 water basins classified in the two highest categories of drought in August. It took place as the province grappled with hundreds of out-of-control wildfires, in what has since been determined to be the worst wildfire season on record.

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While many are lamenting this winter’s abominable ski season, Hill said the low snowpack will have much more serious ramifications in the months and years to come.

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“They essentially act as a battery for our rivers, and the less snowpack that we have going into the spring and summer, the sooner our river and stream levels are going to go down, and we’ll be relying on rain to feed them,” he explained.

“As an organization that works on salmon conservation, we’re particularly concerned about the effect on fish and the people and wildlife who depend on salmon runs in our rivers.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. snowpack levels extremely low: data'
B.C. snowpack levels extremely low: data

On Thursday, B.C. Premier David Eby said the snowpack raises concerns about “some of the most dramatic drought conditions that have been seen in our lifetime,” and he’s “really worried” about what’s coming this summer. Close to 100 wildfires are still smouldering throughout the province, he added.

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“This marks the year when I learned that fires can actually burn underneath snow, I didn’t know that was a thing,” Eby said at an unrelated news conference.

Click to play video: 'Heavy rain after summer drought raises flood risk'
Heavy rain after summer drought raises flood risk

Hill said he thinks provincial responses to drought management are improving, but a more aggressive approach is needed.

He recommends implementing water restrictions for residents and businesses sooner — before the drought hits “crisis” levels — as well as increased support for First Nations, communities, farmers and landowners to improve the land’s natural water retention and develop watershed resilience.

He also suggested more wetland restoration projects, keeping forest cover intact, and cracking down on unlicensed water use.


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