Context for the 2015 Drought: What Happens on the Land Matters!
Drought on the West Coast:
A New Reality?
Western North America may be crossing an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. Communities can no longer count on a predictable snowpack and reliable precipitation to maintain a healthy water balance in their watersheds.
It has been difficult even for experts to grasp the extent of what the loss of relative hydrological stability means. Last year, in an online poll conducted by CBC News, the public chose the drought as British Columbia’s “Top Story of 2015”.
BC’s new Water Sustainability Act
In April 2016, the Environmental Managers Association of BC will host a session about the 2015 Drought.
“Three speakers will present on different aspects of water scarcity and connect the dots to the Water Sustainability Act. Oliver Brandes will describe his vision of what a world-class regulatory system can look like in B.C. Steve Conrad will elaborate on climate change science. Kim Stephens will explain what needs to be done to restore the water balance in urban areas,” stated Stephanie Voysey, EMA Vice-President (Education), when the session announced.
To Learn More:
Much of the detail related to implementation of the Water Sustainability Act is provided in regulations and operational policies. An initial set of regulations also came into effect on February 29, 2016.
Due to the number of proposed regulations and policies, government is taking a phased approach to their development and work in this area continues. Visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/
Key Message: Restore the Water Balance in Urban Areas
Kim Stephens is Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. His talk is titled, “What Happens on the Land Matters: Restore the Water Balance in Urban Areas!”. An engineer-planner, he has more than four decades of experience. This covers the continuum of water resource and infrastructure engineering issues.
Kim Stephens has played a leadership role in a series of initiatives in British Columbia related to water conservation and sustainability, watershed health, rainwater management and green infrastructure. In 2003, he was asked by the provincial government to develop the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, released in 2004. Ever since, Kim has been responsible for Action Plan program delivery and evolution.
2015 – A ‘Teachable Year’
For British Columbians, 2015 was the year of the great drought, dwindling snow packs, melting glaciers, beleaguered salmon runs and a costly forest fire season, followed by windstorms and heavy rains. Launched from a powerful El Nino, storms caused the single largest electrical outage in the province’s history.
“2015 ranks with 2003 as a defining teachable year. Lessons learned will inform how local governments move forward with a ‘water balance’ approach to rainwater management, protection of watershed function and land servicing,” observes Kim Stephens.
Relationship between Land and Water
“Communities in southwest BC dodged a bullet in 2015. The clock is ticking. Communities need to leverage this teachable year and seize opportunities to change how the water resource is viewed and managed. This starts with an understanding of the relationship between land and water,” emphasizes Kim Stephens.
“Restoring the absorbency of the urban landscape would stretch the seasonal population-support capacities of water storage reservoirs – by reducing demand for landscape irrigation water – and sustain environmental flows during droughts. It would also reduce stream erosion in wet weather.”
”Too often people think of land and water as being independent – almost like silos. But what we do on the land, and whether we treat the land with respect, has direct implications and consequences for water use. The Water Sustainability Act connects these dots,” concludes Kim Stephens.
To Learn More:
The 2015 Drought was selected as the Top Story of 2015 in a poll conducted by the CBC. Year-end newspaper, radio and television interviews about BC’s changing climate featured the perspective provided by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
To read a comprehensive story about those interviews, click on “The Drought” was British Columbia’s Top News Story of 2015.