Drought risk up as snowpack melts away

Alpine snow levels down sharply in most B.C. watersheds after warm, dry April

Snow levels are far below normal on the mountains above this South Coast inlet.

A very warm and dry April quickly melted away much of the snowpack in B.C.’s alpine areas, increasing the threat of another summer of drought conditions in parts of the province.

B.C.’s River Forecast Centre says the risk of low stream flows this summer are “elevated” due to very low snowpacks remaining in many regions, including the Upper Fraser, Middle Fraser, Nechako, Similkameen, East Kootenay, Central Coast, Stikine, Skeena, Liard and Northwest.

Its latest report says the snow melt is about three to four weeks ahead of normal in most areas.

The Fraser basin as a whole has 69 per cent of its normal snowpack left – down sharply from 96 per cent or near normal back in early April.

And its considerably worse in some watersheds. The Skagit watershed near Chilliwack has 23 per cent of normal snow, the Similkameen is down to 25 per cent and northwest B.C. watersheds are averaging 12 per cent – record low levels.

Snow is now largely gone from all but the highest elevations in many regions.

Last summer’s record-low snowpack levels ultimately led to severe drought conditions, which forced extreme water sprinkling restrictions in the Lower Mainland, as well as angling closures and a greater risk of wildfires.

This summer, Environment Canada’s seasonal forecasts anticipate above-normal temperatures will be more likely across B.C. from May to July.

Authorities are taking early steps to conserve drinking water supplies.

Metro Vancouver begins its stage 1 lawn sprinkling restrictions on May 15, two weeks earlier than normal.

A stage 2 open burning ban has also been declared in the Coastal Fire Centre region effective May 13 in areas not otherwise regulated by local governments. That includes the Lower Mainland, Sea-To-Sky, Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. Small campfires and campstoves are still allowed. For more info see bcwildfire.ca.

Environment Canada said Thursday parts of eastern B.C. could get haze from the fires burning near Fort McMurray, as smoke from Alberta is carried over the Rockies.