B.C. Hydro says winter drought on Vancouver Island raises water supply concerns

Vancouver Island is in a winter drought after two months of unusually dry and cold weather, B.C. Hydro says.

A spokesman for the Crown utility, which uses water flow to generate electricity, said winter started wet and mild but frigid conditions at the end of January “locked up” available moisture in snow and ice.

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Stephen Watson said that has created drought-like conditions in watersheds serving the Sooke, Port Alberni, Comox Valley and Campbell River regions.

He said the Puntledge River system in the Comox Valley is already in conservation mode in order to provide enough water for downstream fish habitats and the other three watersheds aren’t faring much better.

Hydrologists say the water supply forecast for this time of year has reached a record-breaking 50-year low.

Watson said Vancouver Island has had winter droughts before. It needs several significant rain storms in the coming weeks to bring water levels back up before the snow pack melts.

“I think everyone’s used to that snow being on the ground and assuming that the conditions are good, but the water supply forecasts that we have for a lot of our systems on the Island are only showing 75 per cent of normal for water inflow looking [toward] the summer,” he said.

If conditions remain dry, recreational use of reservoirs and rivers, as well as the domestic water supply, could be affected, he said.

The utility is looking ahead and preparing in case the weather stays dry through the next few months, Watson said.

“We will manage through it, we’ll work with local governments, whether it’s, for example, the Comox Valley Regional District in the Comox Valley, the DFO, and others. We will continue to inform and update and work together to manage through conditions like these.”

B.C. Hydro will conserve as much water as possible going into the spring and summer, and in case of a very dry summer, Watson said the utility will have water in reserve to pump into salmon spawning streams in the fall.

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