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. “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,” states Steve Conrad.
In September 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “This promises to be the most comprehensive and inclusive effort to positively change the world in all of human history. This may well be the most important thing we have ever done for ourselves and for our planet,.” stated Bob Sandford.
“The vital importance of water and water-related trade-offs with climate policy has largely been ignored to date. At first glance, water plays no role in the Paris agreement. Upon closer examination, however, we see that climate policy will have far-reaching implications for the availability of water and vice versa,” wrote Ines Dombrowsky. “The Paris agreement has for the first time made enhancement of adaptive capacities and strengthening of climate change resilience a global goal.”
In April 2016, the Environmental Managers Association of BC hosted 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,” announced Stephanie Voysey.
“Think of it this way. Before the building was on the site, the rain was intercepted by vegetation canopies, and/or infiltrated into natural soils. Either way, the rain ended up replenishing soil moisture, allowing the plants to grow, and recharging the local groundwater aquifer,” Franco Montalto said. “The more buildings that go up, the more we need to consider how to manage the water that would have landed in the drainage area they’re displacing.”
“In other regions, notably California, they think of droughts in terms of number of years. In the Georgia Basin (Southwest BC), we measure droughts in terms of number of months. As we have increasingly experienced in recent decades, three months versus either four or five months of essentially rain-free weather makes a material difference from a water supply perspective,” stated Kim Stephens.
Context for BC’s 2015 Drought: “Yes, We Need Rain, But We Also Need Snow,” wrote Pauline Holdsworth in The Tyee
“In British Columbia, climate models show a province that gets wetter as it gets hotter,” wrote Pauline Holdsworth. “Overall precipitation is expected to increase by six per cent in B.C. by the middle of the century, but it will be unevenly distributed throughout the year. As winters get warmer but wetter, some B.C. rivers may change from being primarily snow-fed to primarily rain-fed. Water that falls as rain will get flushed through river systems, instead of being saved for summer as snowpack.
Scientists are trying to figure out how rising temps will change the alpine run-off that helps power the province
Scientists like UBC’s Dan Moore know that glaciers are melting as the climate warms; that much is clear. They also know that climate change will change the movement and distribution of water in glacial-fed areas, which is most of British Columbia. Because of this, glaciers play a significant role in keeping the province’s hydroelectric system running. In a stable climate, glaciers “recharge” each winter when they accumulate more snow and ice.
Reflections on the 2015 Drought: “Southwest British Columbia dodged a bullet,” stated Kim Stephens in an interview published by The Province newspaper
On a positive note, Kim Stephens said the water issue is gaining a prominence in the public’s mind which it has never had. “People in general have not appreciated how vulnerable we’ve always been. They’re beginning to see how essential it is,” he said. Stephens advises the public to stay positive and not succumb to a negative state of mind. “Drought is not the end of the world. Australia survived a seven-year drought. People get through it,” he said.
Implementing water efficiency measures in planning policy could help save Australia billions of dollars, improve water resilience and help reduce the emissions of housing stock. According to Dr Peter Coombes, most states are aware of the findings, but are not motivated to implement such a scheme. “No one analyses the whole system together; it’s partial accounting,” he said.