A new report from the Ministry of Forests puts the province of B.C.’s snowpack levels at 79 per cent of normal, showing early signs of potential spring or summer drought.
According to the Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, as of Feb. 1, the average is down three percentage points from the start of January. Vancouver Island is sitting at 75 per cent of normal, up 13 percentage points from Jan. 1. However, compared to February 2022, it’s down 37 percentage points.
The River Forecast Centre says that although the average for the Island is 75 per cent of normal, conditions are variable and don’t necessarily predict drought conditions.
“The Island is quite variable just because the elevation is a little lower and we get either a lot of rain or lesser rain every year…so even if it’s 75 per cent of normal, it’s still on the slightly lower than normal side,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.
The below-normal snow basin indices are an early indicator for spring or summer drought in some regions, according to the report. Boyd says it’s too early to say what Islanders can expect.
“Big factor as well is what time the snow actually melts. So if it were to actually melt in April, from extreme heat in April then that would run the risk of very low flow,” said Boyd.
Officials at the Goldstream Hatchery aren’t concerned about potential droughts, due to an agreement with the Capital Regional District. Peter McCully, a technical advisor with Goldstream Hatchery, says the CRD releases a minimum flow even during the summer periods.
“We’re fortunate to be able to use some of that water to operate on the hatchery,” said McCully.
The agreement helps battle against drought conditions, but the temperatures that come with droughts can still be a risk. Higher temperatures in the water could be detrimental.
“The warmer the water, the less oxygen it’s able to carry. Ironically, the warmer the water, the higher the activity level of the fish and the demand for oxygen increases,” said McCully.
Alternatively, heavy rainfall events such as floods can lower the temperature in the water but influence lower activity levels in salmon and could cause juvenile fish to wash out.
“Goldstream has the benefit of impounded water stored during the winter. Other watersheds further up that don’t have that benefit, they’re in desperate straits,” said McCully.
The Hatchery says that additions to cool down the water temperature are continuously discussed. One option is purchasing a ‘chiller’ — a large-scale refrigerator — which is possible, but expensive.