Those who manage the water systems of mid-Island communities say they aren’t pushing any panic buttons, but they are watching this dry winter with an eye to the water supply in the summer.
Water system managers from Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Lantzville, Nanaimo, the regional district and EPCOR Water Services met last week to talk about the low levels of the snowpack and rainfall being experienced this year.
“We are monitoring the situation,” said Mike Donnelly, the manager of water and utility services for the Regional District of Nanaimo, in an interview with The NEWS. “We are not in a critical situation right now. We have February and March and we see a lot of rain coming at us this week, for example.”
The regional district issued a news release Wednesday that stated without adequate rainfall, water reservoirs do not fill as quickly and aquifers recharge more slowly. The RDN said this can limit surface and ground water supply in the drier summer months, when water demand is at its peak. While winter precipitation may yet reverse the dry pattern, the RDN said water managers will begin conservation messaging earlier in 2014, so that residents will have the information they need if extra conservation measures are required.
The rain gauge at the City of Parksville works yard has yielded some telling data. The average (2005-2012) combined rainfall for the months of October through January is 504 millimetres. From October, 2013 through January, 2014, the gauge recorded only 188 mm of precipitation, about 37 per cent of the average. It was even drier in Qualicum Beach, where a total of 155 mm of precipitation fell in the months of October, 2013 through January, 2014. In the same months a year earlier (October, 2012 through January, 2013), a total of 358 mm of precipitation fell at the Qualicum Beach Airport.
While any talk about water supply inevitably turns to the possibility of tighter restrictions in the summer, Donnelly said “we’re not there yet.”
Donnelly said lawn watering and other home irrigation inside town and city limits account for “the biggest effect on water consumption in the region.” He said rural water users, more directly connected to a well system, better understand the limits of their water supply.
“They (rural residents) are the best water managers out there,” said Donnelly.
A Qualicum Beach water system manager said the town has a different approach to words like restrictions and regulations. The street number and days-of-the-week approach to summer watering restrictions, according to engineer Bob Weir, can put too much stress on the town’s water system.
“What we try to so is tell people not to water when the sun is up,” said Weir. When we spread everyone’s use out it’s a lot less stress on our system.”
Weir attended the meeting of system managers last week.
“We’re not pushing any panic buttons but it’s due diligence to be aware of these things and monitor them closely,” he said.
The drastic drop in rainfall doesn’t affect only humans. Salmon who came back to the rivers of Parksville Qualicum Beach laid eggs that will hatch soon and that next generation will need pools in the streams to fatten up before heading to sea.
“In normal years, we get the big storms in November and December and nothing this year and nothing much since,” said Faye Smith, a director with Qualicum Beach-based Streamkeepers and the project co-ordinator of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society.
“From our perspective, as a stewardship group, we are looking to the summer with some trepidation,” said Smith.
For more information about the RDN’s water conservation programs, visit: www.dwwp.ca and www.teamwatersmart.ca.