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bob sandford

    WATCH THE VIDEO / WATER AND A CHANGING CLIMATE: “Because the earth is a closed-loop system, new water is not being created. What is changing in British Columbia is the seasonal distribution. Longer, drier summers are followed by warmer, wetter winters. Extreme droughts followed by extreme floods show just how unbalanced the seasonal water cycle is now. This is our new reality,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (July 2021)


    “A long career provides perspective. In my five decades as water resource planner and engineer, there are three years that really stand out in British Columbia when the topic is water conservation. After what in respect was a benign half-century, 1987 was BC’s first wake up call. The drought was unprecedented in living memory. But it was 2003 that truly was what we call ‘the teachable year.’ This really got the attention of British Columbians that the climate was indeed changing. In 2015, the West Coast of North America crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. And it has happened faster than anyone expected,” stated Kim Stephens.

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    WATER SUPPLY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA’S CHANGING CLIMATE: “Since 2000, summer precipitation has dropped about 20 per cent. This step change is unusual,” stated Hans Schreier, a professor emeritus of land and water systems at the University of British Columbia (July 2021)


    Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. “If we’d go to some good conservation measures, we wouldn’t have to worry for the next 15 or 20 years about summer water supplies, But we’re a very slow starter — everybody thinks we have enough water. It’s not a technical problem, it’s a social problem. You’ve got variability every year, and all of a sudden it dropped about 20 per cent. This means we need to be far more conscientious about summer water use,” stated Hans Schreier.

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    DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: 42 days and counting – no end in sight for dry spell, which began after Metro Vancouver’s last measurable rainfall on June 15, 2021


    As Metro Vancouver headed into Day 43 of drought, officials asked residents to keep the six-week-long lack of precipitation in mind when they think about watering their lawn or washing their car. “We’re keeping a close eye on things. We need people to be really mindful about how they are using the water that is available. We’re certainly not in a position where we’ve got surplus water and people can do whatever they want,” stated Marilyn Towill, Metro Vancouver General Manager of Water Services.

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    DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: “A generation ago, water supply managers could reasonably anticipate that three months of water storage would be sufficient to maintain supply during a dry summer. Today, however, a 6-month drought is a very real likelihood,” stated Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC (July 2021)


    “Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. Over time, the safety factor has been shrinking. While it rains a lot in BC, we do not have an abundance of supply when demand is greatest. In addition, the mountainous nature of BC’s geography means that BC communities are typically storage-constrained, and what storage they do have is measured in weeks to months. As of 2015, we clearly crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydrometeorological regime in Western North America,” stated Kim Stephens.

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    BRITISH COLUMBIA’S DROUGHT RESPONSE PLAN / 2021 UPDATE: “Expanding the existing drought levels from a four to six-level scale more accurately describes stream flow drought and water scarcity conditions in B.C,” stated Julia Berardinucci, Director of Water Strategies and Conservation, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (May 2021)


    “Drought severity in B.C. has previously been communicated through four ‘drought levels’. These categories are broad. Desired outcomes in going to a 6-level system include better understanding of current conditions, advance warning of extreme drought, and better alignment with other jurisdictions in North America. A new ‘severely dry’ level would signify a severe state of drought, and a new ‘exceptionally dry’ level would be used to identify drought conditions that are at or near historical lows,” stated Julia Berardinucci.

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    FLASHBACK TO 2004: “The vision for the waterbucket.ca website is to provide a resource rich ‘destination location’ for water sustainability in British Columbia,” stated Mike Tanner, Waterbucket Chair, at the Penticton Drought Forum hosted by the Province of British Columbia (July 2004)


    “Integrated water management involves consideration of land, water, air and living organisms – including humans – as well as the interactions among them. Through partnerships, the Water Sustainability Action Plan is promoting the watershed as a fundamental planning unit. The waterbucket.ca will connect all six Action Plan Elements to provide the complete story on integrated water management – why, what, where and how – and is the key to the communication strategy for the Action Plan,” stated Mike Tanner.

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    ADAPTING TO THE NEW REALITY OF LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS: Unlike other regions and countries, the water supply challenge in British Columbia’s mountainous environment is that seasonal water storage potential is limited – such that there is little margin for operational error even though our droughts are measured in months rather than years!


    “Drought severity in B.C. is currently communicated through four “drought levels”. Because these categories are broad, it makes it difficult to communicate moderate levels of drought, worsening drought conditions over time, or when regions are experiencing abnormal water scarcity. Desired outcomes in going to a 6-level system include better understanding of current conditions, advance warning of extreme drought, and better alignment with other jurisdictions in North America,” stated Julia Berardinucci.

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    ACHIEVING WATER BALANCE: “If communities are vulnerable on the IN side of the Water Balance equation, then it would make sense to build in resiliency on the OUT side,” stated Kim Stephens when he connected the dots between the 2005 Penticton Workshop and the BC Landscape Water Calculator


    “Because many factors are in play within the Water OUT = Water IN equation, an over-arching goal for sustainable water supply management would be to build in resiliency that addresses risk. There is no silver bullet. Communities need to do many little things. Over time the cumulative benefits of doing many things do add up. Consider, for example, the role of soil depth in reducing water need and preventing water runoff. To adapt to a changing water cycle, soil depth as an absorbent sponge is a primary water management tool,” stated Kim Stephens.

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    ADAPTING TO THE NEW REALITY OF LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS: Unlike other regions and countries, the water supply challenge in British Columbia’s mountainous environment is that seasonal water storage potential is limited – such that there is little margin for operational error even though our droughts are measured in months rather than years!


    “Consider our recent experience. For five straight years, from 2015 through 2019, British Columbia repeatedly dodged a bullet due to the new reality of longer, drier summers. 2020 was different. It was a wet year. This is why we must not be lulled as we emerge from winter and look ahead to summer. Once upon a time, a 5-month drought was considered possible but unlikely. And then it happened. A 6-month drought was considered improbable in the rain forest. And then it too happened – in 2015. In the big picture of water demand, our water supply lakes and reservoirs are mere puddles,” stated Kim Stephens.

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    BRITISH COLUMBIA’S NEW CLIMATE REALITY: “While summer drought is very much the new normal for the Cowichan Valley, the warm temperatures and lack of rain we’ve had year-to-date is of significant concern,” said Kate Miller, Manager of Environmental Services, Cowichan Valley Regional District


    Persistent drought conditions mean that Cowichan Valley residents asked to reduce water use by up to 30 percent. The Cowichan Valley Regional District had been at Drought Level 1 since May 2019, which calls for a 10 percent voluntary reduction in water use. But Kate Miller said that further analysis by her office in early June had concluded the region was really at Level 2 and fast approaching Level 3. “We can see the low lake and river levels, but data from provincial monitoring wells tells us the drought is also affecting groundwater aquifers,” she said.

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