B.C.’s Okanagan communities could face serious drought this summer

KELOWNA, B.C. — Wednesday’s spotty showers did little to quench a very dry reality - B.C.’s Okanagan is facing a serious drought this summer.

KELOWNA, B.C. — Wednesday’s spotty showers did little to quench a very dry reality – B.C.’s Okanagan is facing a serious drought this summer.

The Ministry of Environment’s water stewardship division says the amount of water that has flowed into Okanagan Lake this year is less than half the normal volume. In addition, precipitation in Kelowna and Penticton in April and May was less than half the normal amount.

Water purveyors are already worried about their lack of supply. And unless clouds unload heavy rainfall for at least a few days in the coming weeks, some irrigation districts could face severe shortages.

“It’s bloody dry up there,” said Toby Pike, manager of South East Kelowna Irrigation District.

Pike said SEKID’s McCulloch Lake reservoir is at two-thirds its average level.

“If the summer is comparable to 2003 or 1998, we’ll have very high demand with reduced supply. It’s pretty hard to make that balance.”

SEKID supplies up to 85 per cent of its water to farmers. It has already cut their annual allotment by 20 per cent.

Domestic users can water their lawns just twice a week. If nothing changes, the 9,000 acre feet in the reservoir could shrink to 1,800 acre feet, Pike said.

“It increases our vulnerability to a shortage next year. If we get a couple of dry years in a row, we get into trouble.”

Conditions differ throughout the region but Okanagan Lake is a strong indicator of the overall water supply conditions.

Des Anderson of the water stewardship division says the weekly net inflows were 28 million cubic metres at their peak in early June. In past years, the average for that week was 49 million cubic metres.

“The year is shaping up to be similar to 2003. That was a serious drought year in the Okanagan,” Anderson said.

“We are in quite a deficit situation. It would take a lot of precipitation to replenish that.”

Although reluctant to call it a drought right now, Anderson says people need to conserve water “to the full extent possible.”

The more they conserve early on, the less severe summer shortages will be, he said.

Scientists are studying the water availability in the Okanagan, which has the lowest per capita availability of freshwater in the country, according to Statistics Canada.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board is focusing one study on where the demands are the largest and whether water licences outstrip supply.

The board is also trying to develop a basin-wide drought plan this year that involves all the Okanagan valley’s municipalities.

“We’d like to see them linked together so everyone is responding in the same way,” said Anna Warwick Sears, the board’s executive director.

“If the lake level drops, we have agreements in place for how communities will respond in a co-ordinated way.”

Everyone must become more water-efficient to balance the demands from fish, farmers and domestic users, Warwick Sears said.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t do it. We need to change our sense of place.”