Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

Record low snowpack is fueling drought concerns in BC and is a particular worry to Living Lakes Canada (LLC).

The BC River Forecast Centre’s snow survey as of February 1 shows that snowpack levels remain very low, averaging 39 per cent below normal (compared to 21 per cent this time last year). 

In the Columbia Basin, average snowpack in the Upper Columbia, West Kootenay and East Kootenay regions is sitting at 30, 33 and 37 per cent below normal, respectively. And current trends are expected to persist, with officials saying the likelihood of experiencing another record drought this summer is significant.

Living Lakes explains that snowpack serves as a natural reservoir, gradually releasing water during the spring snowmelt. Meltwater recharges rivers, streams, wetlands, lakes and groundwater. 

“Reduced snowpack levels pose a threat to the availability of freshwater that is critical for agriculture, community water systems, and ecosystem health, LLC says.

In the Kootenay region the record wildfire and drought of 2023 had devastating consequences including home losses, damaged municipal water supply structures, increased water restrictions, drops in aquifer levels, low flows in rivers and streams, and wetlands and lakes drying out. 

To better understand the impacts of climate change on water availability, LLC has been implementing a coordinated monitoring network across the region. 

Data is already being used to support community climate adaptation planning, assess wildfire impacts on water quality, inform restoration projects and regional model validation, and guide sustainable water usage.

“The low snowpack being recorded across the Columbia Basin has concerning implications for water supply throughout the rest of 2024,” said Paige Thurston, LLC’s Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework program manager. “Unless conditions shift in the next few months, communities should be prepared for low stream flows this summer. It will be critical that we track water and climate conditions throughout the year and respond accordingly.”

Kat Hartwig, LLC executive director, said they have joined numerous other organizations across the province in calling for “strong, decisive action by the BC government in response to severe drought conditions experienced in 2023 and beginning now for 2024.”

Hartwig said the impacts of climate change on water security were forecast by scientists decades ago when there was the opportunity to plan ahead, “instead of being immersed in a costly, reactionary cycle trying to address the current reality of flood, drought, fires, repeat.”

At this stage, it is essential to rapidly generate collaborative problem-solving approaches, Hartwig pointed out. 

The BC Watershed Security Coalition is calling for the provincial government to create a watershed management system and invest $75 million annually into the province’s Watershed Security Fund to safeguard freshwater for current and future generations.