When it comes to climate change, it is often said that mitigation (prevention) is about energy, and adaptation is about water.
According to predictions from B.C.’s Ministry of Environment, the province is expected to experience longer, drier summers. We’ll also experience warmer, wetter winters, which will leave less snowpack to carry the province through the dry season.
Sounds a bit like this summer. Many regions of the province are experiencing critically low levels of water:
River levels in northern B.C. are the lowest they have been in decades, which puts the province’s fish stocks and water supply at risk.
Liard and Skeena river levels are the lowest they’ve been in two decades.
The Bulkley River is at a 10-year low.
Parts of northern B.C. got only about 25-50 per cent of the normal amount of rain during the last two months, which means drought conditions will get worse unless there is significant rainfall in the near future.
The Cariboo region’s Quesnel and Horsefly rivers are at 10 to 20-year lows. The Fraser River — a critical salmon route — is at a 10-year low.
Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan are all experiencing extra-dry conditions. (Source)
Is B.C. is ready for the type of summer we’re having?
The answer is clearly no.
B.C. has an antiquated and inadequate water allocation system. With the exception of a handful of streams, there are no dedicated water flows for fish and the environment. This means that private water users can keep taking water until a stream is sucked dry.
During water shortages, there’s no system to make all users conserve and cut back. Water-use priority is not even ranked according to societal benefit, meaning that a golf course might have the right to use water while a municipal system or food grower goes without.
To its credit, the provincial government has acknowledged that the current system is broken and poses a risk to our environment, cities and the economy. Plans are afoot to bring in a new Water Act, but we don’t yet know whether it will be adequate or if there is the political will to get a new Act pushed through the legislature.
It’s important to let government know it needs to protect our water.