Drought on the West Coast: A New Reality?
Note to Reader:
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”.
On April 21, EMA of BC is hosting a session about the 2015 Drought. This speaker session followed by networking mixer will introduce EMA members and others to Oliver Brandes, Steve Conrad and Kim Stephens. The venue is the BCIT Downtown Vancouver Campus.
To learn more, visit http://www.emaofbc.com/
British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act is already influencing Water Management
According to Stephanie Voysey, EMA Vice-President (Education), “The three speakers will present on different aspects of water scarcity and connect the dots to the Water Sustainability Act. Oliver Brandes from the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria will describe his vision of what a world-class regulatory system can look like in B.C. Steve Conrad from Pacific Water Research Centre at Simon Fraser University will elaborate on climate change science. Kim Stephens of the Partnership for Water Sustainability will explain what needs to be done to restore the water balance in urban areas.”
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/
Putting the “Sustainable” in BC’s Water Laws
“B.C.’s water law regime leaped into the 21st century this past year with the coming into force of the province’s new Water Sustainability Act. For the first time in B.C., groundwater is now regulated which means that the province is now managing surface water and groundwater as exactly what they are: one interconnected resource,” states Oliver Brandes, POLIS Co-Director.
“New legal provisions to ensure water flows for nature – sometimes called ‘environmental flows’ – are a key feature of this new regime so that ecosystems and fish can survive during periods of drought.”
“The act’s coming into force is only one part of the long journey to a truly substantial, sustainable water law regime. This process is still a work in progress. The very best tools in the new act’s tool box to protect water for nature — things like water sustainability plans, innovative governance and water objectives — are still being developed and will all be needed to really put the ‘sustainability’ in the new Water Sustainability Act,” concludes Oliver Brandes.
Uncertainty of Water Supplies
Due to a Changing Climate
“At this time last year, few people would have would have predicted that B.C. would experience one of the driest summers on record. Now, just six months since drought conditions were lifted across B.C., could B.C. be looking at another summer of drought? The odds are that we will not, but with climate change, we certainly could – and we certainly will see more droughts,” observes Steve Conrad, Associate Director, Pacific Water Research Centre.
“Drought impacts all water users, including farmers, residents, businesses, and drought significantly reduces water flows for the environment. Remembering that water shortages can and will occur anytime and anywhere is key requirement for developing sustainable water supply strategies.”
“Appreciate the unforeseeable. That’s just one of the lessons we should take away from last year’s drought. Appreciating the unforeseeable means we should be prepared to reduce water use, consider alternative water supplies, capture any rain we do receive, and protect vulnerable ecosystems and important water uses during drought periods,” concludes Steve Conrad.
What Happens on the Land Matters!
“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, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.
“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.