Province gives south coast and Lower Fraser region its highest drought rating

Metro Vancouver has no plans to increase water restrictions despite Stage 4 status


Metro Vancouver has no plans to ramp up water restrictions despite the provincial government announcing a Stage 4 drought Wednesday in British Columbia’s most heavily populated region: the south coast and Lower Fraser area.

Water Supplies throughout the British Columbia under stress.
Water Supplies throughout the British Columbia under stress.

The Stage 4 drought designation, brought on by a record-low snow pack, low rainfall and soaring temperatures, is the province’s highest level, and opens the door for government to begin restricting water licenses in the future if conditions worsen, said Forests Minister Steve Thomson, noting that conditions are likely to get drier in the coming days and weeks.

B.C.’s water laws are built on a “first in time, first in right” rule, where companies and users with the newest licenses are the first to be cut off if government restricts the extraction of surface or groundwater.

“The lowest priority … would be the ones that would be first potentially impacted and have reduced flow under their licenses,” said Thomson. “That’s a step we could take.”

A Stage 4 drought rating means conditions are so dry that further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and impact people, industry such as agriculture, and wildlife and fish stocks.

All users are being urged to maximize their water conservation efforts.

Thomson noted that the province’s move does not mean Metro Vancouver is required to increase its water conservation requirements for household users.

“Our assessment conditions, our levels, run differently than the local government’s classifications systems,” said Thomson.

Metro Vancouver has indicated that it will not increase regional restrictions from today’s Level 2, in which lawn sprinkling is limited to once a week, to a Level 3 rating, in which all lawn sprinkling is restricted.

“We’re still monitoring it very closely and we need to see the effects of level 2,” said North Vancouver city mayor Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s utilities committee. “At this point in time, while our reservoirs are stressed, the engineers are still confident that if we abide by Level 2 restrictions and reduce our water consumption and people are vigilant with water use, we should be able to get through with Level 2.”

Mussatto said the region typically gets rain from now to September, but that if it doesn’t over the next month or so, “we’ll reassess for sure.”

It’s not the first time B.C. has escalated drought conditions, though it is the first time the Lower Mainland has reached Stage Four status.

In the past, Thomson said, the government has had to step in and use the Fish Protection Act to restrict water access to a user in order to protect fish habitat.

But his ministry said it cannot recall any time in the past decade in which it has had to restrict water licenses in the Lower Mainland, or curtail the use of water by high-use businesses.

Both the Lower Mainland and South Fraser drought ratings were last adjusted on June 30, when they were increased to Stage 3. Although some rivers in the Howe Sound and Squamish areas are near normal for this time of year, other streams in the South Coast and Lower Fraser are well below normal.

While there are no angling closures in the two regions at this time, fisheries biologists are monitoring approximately 60 key angling streams throughout the province and, if conditions warrant, closures are possible.

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