With less than one millimeter of rain so far this month recorded at the Comox weather station, the eastern side of Vancouver Island, including the Comox Valley, is at a Level 4 drought – the second-highest level recorded by the province.
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the drought level means adverse impacts on fish and ecosystems are likely. Water shortages in several private groundwater wells have also been reported.
In the Comox Valley, Black Creek and the Tsolum River are areas with high risks of additional impacts from water scarcity.
British Columbia ranks drought levels from 0 to 5; Level 5 is rated as the most severe, with adverse impacts to socioeconomic or ecosystem values being almost certain.
“We’re not expecting much (precipitation) in the next week or so, and not much for the remainder of the month,” said Bobby Sekhon, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “This is the driest month of the year.”
On average in the Valley, the area receives 27mm of rain in July with about eight days of measurable rain. Sekhon noted this month so far there has been only one day with recorded precipitation – July 16 – accounting for only 0.8mm of rain.
For BC Hydro, which manages the Puntledge River system for dam safety, flood risk management, fish and fish habitat, power generation and recreation, water supply forecast for July through September is 65.5 per cent of normal – a drop from earlier water supply forecasts.
“While Comox reservoir experienced high inflows in June, July has been very dry,” explained Karla Louwers, public affairs officer with BC Hydro.
The Comox reservoir is at approximately 134.5 metres and has been drafting since June 30.
With the dry watershed conditions, BC Hydro began to reduce flow Friday (July 23) morning from about 15 – 16 m3/s to about 13 m3/s.
At this flow rate, there may be some riverbed exposure as the flow slowly lowers in stages.
“During this morning’s planned reduction we were out in key areas of the river to ensure any potential stranded fish are returned back into the mainstem,” added Louwers.
BC Hydro will continue to manage downstream flows as needed to manage water storage through the early fall.
The province warns if conservation measures do not achieve sufficient results and drought conditions worsen, temporary protection orders under the Water Sustainability Act may be issued to water licensees to avoid significant or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystems.