Although this summer in British Columbia is expected to be cooler and wetter than 2021, experts say the need to conserve Metro Vancouver’s water supply is greater than ever.
Although a cool, wet spring has rendered the recent introduction of lawn watering restrictions unnecessary, such measures are necessary to preserve the region’s water supply through the end of summer.
Unlike last year, when a deadly and record-breaking heat dome settled over the province in June, the hottest period of 2022 is expected to be mid-July to mid-August, according to Environment Canada – when reservoir levels are much lower.
Data from 2015 to 2021 shows that average water levels for the region during this period – when extreme heat can cause water loss from reservoirs due to evaporation – is 170 billion liters, against about 300 billion liters during the month of May.
This is an additional strain on Metro Vancouver’s water supply, which is already dealing with increasing pressures from a growing population and a decrease in snow supplying reservoirs.
Snowpack depletion is accelerating, research shows
The snowpack is the seasonal accumulation of snow that feeds streams and rivers as it melts. For Metro Vancouver, the Coast Mountains snowpack — which feeds the reservoirs of Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam lakes — is an essential source of drinking water.
As of Jan. 1, the province recorded above-normal snowfall amounts, with the exception of the Okanagan, according to the BC River Forecast Center.
However, the amount has dropped dramatically in recent decades, says CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.
“The amount of seasonal snow we’re getting in this decade means something so different than it looked in the 50s and 60s,” Wagstaffe said. “The baseline has already changed.”
This trend is reflected in to research from the University of Northern British Columbia, which shows that British Columbia’s snowpack was depleting at a rate of 298 billion tonnes per year between 2015 and 2019 – an accelerated rate of about 227 billion tonnes per year between 2000 and 2004.
“We have to get used to conserving water because this year is an anomaly,” Wagstaffe said.
Population growth is another major factor affecting the region’s water supply, says John Richardson, a professor in the department of conservation sciences at the University of British Columbia.
According to Metro Vancouver planners, the area will have 3.8 million people in 30 years, an increase of more than one million people from 2.7 million in 2021.
But while the population is expected to increase, there are no plans to build a new reservoir, says Richardson.
Increasing the holding capacities of existing reservoirs or building a new one “comes with the loss of some forest habitat and potential water quality issues,” he said. declared.
Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro Vancouver’s water committee, says the regional district has an opportunity to get more water from Lake Coquitlam, the region’s largest water reservoir.
In 2020, the region announced an investment of $1 billion over the next seven years to build new infrastructure to double its capacity to access, treat and distribute the lake’s water supply.
Depending on the region websitethe project is undergoing permitting and regulatory processes, and construction is scheduled for the late 2020s with completion expected in the late 2030s.
But Brodie also says the need for more water supply infrastructure is on the horizon. In the meantime, residents are encouraged to do whatever they can to save water, even when it doesn’t seem necessary in cooler, wetter weather.
“If we’re wiser in our water use at this point, when, you know, the pressure isn’t so much… people in the [water services department] I think new infrastructure that will be needed at some point can be delayed for a long time,” Brodie said.
Simple ways to save water include washing only full loads of laundry, thawing frozen goods in the fridge instead of running them under a tap, and fixing leaky toilets and faucets. People with swimming pools can lower the water level.
For gardeners struggling with watering restrictions, Richardson suggests planting more drought-tolerant species and letting your grass turn brown during the summer months.
“The grass turns green again when the rains return. Grass is a very hardy plant,” he said.
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