The Tsolum River north of Courtenay is so low there’s bare rock visible on the bottom, and the conditions are typical of many rivers across Vancouver Island.
It’s a signature sign of drought and right now, all of Vancouver Island is at Level 4. Level 5, meanwhile, is the most serious.
“It really actually dates back to what happened last summer and fall and the extended heat and dry conditions that occurred from July through August and September right into October,” said BC River Forecast Centre hydrologist Jonathan Boyd.
What followed was a normal winter for the snowpack, but it’s now mostly gone and providing little to no runoff.
“There was incredible heat in May, which led to essentially the quickest melt of the provincial mountain snowpack that we’ve seen at our measuring stations,” added Boyd.
The Tsolum River is running at 17 per cent of normal right now, with many other rivers flowing at less than half the average for this time of year.
Officials are reluctant to call this drought unprecedented because it also happened in 2015, but there was no snow that year.
“It’s certainly unusual to be this high this soon,” said Boyd. “It’s surprising how quickly it went from relatively significant flows just because of the snow melt process there in May to now being at very low conditions.”
Rivers managed by BC Hydro are in much better shape. The Comox Lake reservoir, for example, is almost still full.
“Seeing the dry forecast and not just the summer but thinking about the early fall, we’ve decided today to lower the Puntledge River flow by about 19 per cent,” said BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson.
“It’s a little bit below where we’d like to see it for this time of year but still kind of a common occurrence now as we get into these summers, so we’re hoping to be able to hold it at that level into the early fall when hopefully the fall rains arrive.”
Level 4 drought means “adverse impacts are likely,” such as insufficient water for fish, water that is too warm for fish and not enough water for agriculture or recreation.