Dry conditions on Vancouver Island putting trees, river flow at risk


WATCH: Thousands of trees could be at risk on Vancouver Island due to the dry, drought-like conditions and low river levels may also be an issue this summer. Tess van Straaten reports.

Conditions are already bone-dry on many parts of Vancouver Island and with drought-like conditions forecast again for this summer, many trees could be in jeopardy.

“Certainly we have concerns about our boulevard and park trees and we’re out now monitoring the situation,” says City of Victoria lead arborist Rob Hughes. “We’re already seeing in some areas signs of drought stress.”

That’s why the City of Victoria has increased its tanker truck watering, adding a fourth truck so they can water new trees and other trees most at risk full time.

“Any of the trees planted in the downtown core in concrete and also in areas with rocky outcroppings and unfortunately, on our regular boulevards, too, we’re going to start seeing drought stress on trees that require a higher available water,” says Hughes.

That includes some of the city’s most iconic trees such as ornamental cherry trees, purple-leaf plums and towering western red cedars, which are showing drought stress from the last few years.  Douglas firs and Garry Oaks could also be at risk, as well as any trees with a shallow root system.

For the last few years, many people have stopped watering their front lawns and boulevards to conserve water. It’s not a problem for grass, which grows back, but experts say the lack of water is really taking a toll on trees.

Low river levels are also a concern. The snowpack was relatively normal on April 1 but May’s hot and dry weather means eastern Vancouver Island is now at a Level 2 drought.

“With the warm temperatures that occurred in May, what we saw was the rivers tended to peak about two to three weeks earlier than normal so at the moment they’re been receding at a time when they normally peak at the end of June,” says Jonathan Boyd of the River Forecast Centre. “We’re currently below normal for most of Vancouver Island for natural stream flow.”

If the warm and dry trend continues, Boyd says we could be at drought Level 3 in a few weeks.

And with dry summers the new normal, when it comes to replanting, the city is now picking drought-tolerant species.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last four years,” says Hughes. “The prediction certainly is for drier, warmer summers for the future and we’re looking at species that will actually establish and grow during those conditions.”

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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