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Water conservation urged as final Okanagan area increases drought rating

Environment, Government Operations Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Responding to continuing dry conditions, the Government of B.C. has announced a Level 4 drought rating for the Okanagan Region, and taken the additional action of suspending angling on the Okanagan River (main-stem only) between Okanagan Lake and Osoyoos Lake due to warming water temperatures.

BC declares level 4 drought in Okanagan

BC declares level 4 drought in Okanagan

This brings the Okanagan region to the same drought level classification as the South Thompson, Similkameen, Kettle and Skagit areas, which were raised to Level 4 on July 27.

At Level 4, conditions are extremely dry. Further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and affect people, industry such as agriculture, wildlife and fish stocks. All water users, including those who access groundwater, are urged to maximize their water conservation efforts.

The establishment of a Level 4 drought advisory, signals that regional water managers may take additional regulatory actions if they are deemed necessary. Any such actions will be site specific depending on individual stream conditions. Specific actions could include the temporary suspension of water licences or short-term water approvals in affected watersheds if necessary. Ministry water management staff will continue to monitor conditions, work closely with First Nations, local governments and key stakeholders, and provide updates as the need arises.

Although residential, agricultural and industrial users within municipalities and regional districts backed by reservoir storage are less vulnerable to water supply shortages than water users served by smaller water systems from streams, lakes and wells, all water users are encouraged to observe local water conservation bylaws to prolong water supplies and to maintain flows for fish and ecosystems.

Water users are also reminded to ensure that water intakes are screened to prevent fish from being pulled into water systems as water levels drop. Low water levels can impede the passage of salmon to spawning grounds, increase susceptibility to disease, or cause stranding or death due to low oxygen and high water temperatures.

Separately, the angling suspension on the Okanagan River main-stem is effective Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, to Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. This section of the Okanagan River is located in Wildlife Management Units 8-1 and 8-8. The closure has been put in place to protect fish stocks at a time when they are vulnerable due to high water temperatures. Lake fishing is not affected by the order and other at-risk streams in the affected management units are already closed to fishing. The closure is in addition to other closures in the southern interior that came into effect July 15.

The B.C. government fisheries biologists are monitoring approximately 40 other key angling streams throughout the province, and if conditions warrant, additional closures are possible. Angling closures are enabled through the British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations of the federal Fisheries Act.

Water conservation is everyone’s responsibility. Many communities in B.C. are prepared to deal with water supply shortages and low streamflow conditions through drought management plans and water conservation programs that are already in place.

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