NEW REPORT > ‘Tapped Out’ Sounds Alarm about British Columbia’s Looming Water Crisis

Note to Reader:

The Watershed Watch Salmon Society, a science-based charity working to defend and rebuild B.C.’s wild salmon, has published a report on water scarcity in B.C, titled  Tapped Out: A Special Report on Water Scarcity and Water Solutions in British ColumbiaAs illustrated below, almost two-thirds of B.C.’s population (i.e. about 3 million people) live in areas that are deemed to be water-stressed.

Water, Water Everywhere….

British Columbia’s climate has changed. 2015 is Year 5 of a new climate reality that is defined by recurring extremes. Floods, drought, forest fires and windstorms – all are happening within the same year, and year after year. Summers are longer and drier; winters are warmer and wetter. As a consequence, the seasonal water balance is out of balance. Change is occurring at a rate much faster than anticipated. This has risk management implications for security of water supply.

Tapped Out is well-written, and is therefore an effective communication piece. It has the potential to engage, inform and educate a broad audience about ‘reliability and resiliency’ of water supply where the population is concentrated. Tapped Out highlights the pressing issue of seasonal water scarcity in BC.

The takeaway message from the story below is that water is a finite resource, even in water-rich British Columbia. With droughts being our new reality, sustainability of water supply dictates that communities would adapt their water use to match the new seasonal pattern. On a practical basis, risk management would oblige communities to have a plan to regulate demand and maintain water supply through a 6-month drought, both for people and fish, from storage (engineered and/or natural).

TAPPED OUT: “We have used water restrictions—an administrative tool used by government to manage water licences—to identify places where water scarcity may challenge our communities and aquatic ecosystems,” states Tanis Gower, lead author

Facts from Tapped Out

Approximately 63% of B.C.’s population (2.9 million people) live in water-stressed areas, as defined by the Province’s designations used to support water licensing decisions.

The areas with the highest levels of water stress cover only 3.7% of the province, but 23% of B.C.’s population lives in these places.

B.C.’s population has doubled since the 1970s, and some water-stressed areas have higher-than-average growth rates.

The Myth of Abundance

Tapped Out analyzes provincial data in a different way to describe the scale of water stress across British Columbia. It includes maps that estimate where water shortages are most likely to be, and how many people could be affected.

There is a myth that B.C. has limitless water supplies,” says lead author Tanis Gower, Project Biologist with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “However, 2.9 million British Columbians live in areas where water shortages are likely to be a serious problem in the coming years.

“Many people believe that B.C. has limitless water supplies. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. All over the province, communities are already experiencing water shortages, and low water levels in many rivers threaten the survival of salmon.

“I began this project about a year ago, and my mission was to find a way to demonstrate how B.C. does not have the abundant water that many people think it does. Unfortunately, BC has very poor information about how much water we have and how much we use.

“In the absence of data, I decided to used water restrictions—an administrative tool used by government to manage water licences—to identify places where there is probably not enough water for new water licenses, and where in dry years there is probably not enough water for fish.

“Water insecurity isn’t just bad for wild salmon; it’s bad for all of us, and the economy, too. The provincial government has been working hard to introduce new water laws and policies but they need to put more resources into this effort. They don’t have a lot of time to get it right,” concludes Tanis Gower.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of  Tapped Out: A Special Report on Water Scarcity and Water Solutions in British Columbia.

Water OUT = Water IN

The real issues related to insecurity or sustainability of water supply are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how do communities deal with the first and manage the latter. Because many factors are in play, the objective is to build in resiliency to address risk.

The Partnership for Water Sustainability introduced the Water OUT = Water IN way-of-thinking, and the equation presented below, at its 2005 Penticton Workshop. This deceptively simple equation embodies principles and concepts for dealing with uncertainty and managing risk; and implementing an holistic approach.

The concept is timeless, and universal in its application. And, as Tapped Out underscores, OUT=IN is more relevant in 2019 than it was in 2005 because the safety factor has been diminished by the combination of population growth and BC’s new climate reality.

A key takeaway message in 2005 was that climate change is not the driver; rather, it is a variable. Furthermore, climate change is only one factor to consider when we talk about security and sustainability of water supply. This takeaway message is still valid today.

To Learn More:

For a backgrounder on the thinking behind Water OUT = Water IN, download a PDF copy of Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk: How We Can Adapt our Water Management Systems, released in 2007.