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THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Local focus on World Water Day

After last year’s drought, what does water look like in Parksville Qualicum Beach?

World Water Day will be celebrated Sunday in Qualicum Beach, focusing on protecting our water.

“We have a great supply of water, the issue is conserving it through the year,” said Lauren Fegan, Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Drinking Water and Watershed Protection.

She points out that despite its apparent abundance, “it is a finite resource that we have to better protect so it will last well into the future.”

While conditions this year are considerably better than last winter and spring’s record breaking hot and dry weather, much of the province, including Vancouver Island, is still drier than average.

Environment Canada’s March 1 Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin lists Vancouver Island as having 86 per cent of the snow pack expected from the 30-year average.

“In southern B.C., snow packs are much better developed than the extremely low conditions that were experienced last year,” it says, adding that a continuing El Nino current of warm, unstable weather from the South Pacific makes predicting long- term trends difficult.

It says that El Nino’s warmer temperatures reduce the crucial snow pack, but it can also bring heavy rain to some areas.

So far in 2016, B.C. has experienced temperatures of one-four degrees C above normal and February was generally wet, with 130 to 200 per cent of normal precipitation.

What does that mean to the local water supply?

A series of ground water monitoring wells across the province provide a glimpse of the local situation.

Of 18 provincial monitoring wells in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, seven appear to be trending down, one (Berwick in Qualicum Beach) is trending up and the other 11 don’t yet indicate an up or down trend over time.

All of the well data, available in detailed charts and graphs online, shows dramatic seasonal variation, with levels dropping in the dry summers and being re-charged over the winter and spring, which Fegan pointed out is a crucial step.

“There is no drastic change. The aquifers always re-charge over the winter, but we don’t have enough data yet to see the long-term trends,” she said, with several of the provincial monitoring wells only showing reliable data for the last couple years.

“We need at least 10 years of data to really see those trends,” she said.

Another local expert — Faye Smith with the Mid-Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES) — says everyone has to start taking the issue a lot more seriously considering the importance of water and recent warning signs like last year’s drought.

“If you treat the water properly, trees and all the things that benefit from that are going to thrive and that’s going to keep the air clean and keep us fed and keep animals in the forest —  there’s nothing more critical.”

“It’s a state of mind we have to keep hammering away at until it becomes part of our natural way of living,” Smith said of a need to make water conservation and planning part of everyday life.

“Be aware that all the water that you use, all the water that is kept out of the aquifer, is important not only to yourself, but to all living things.”

She said there are promising trends like the popularity of rain gardens and barrels, using natural local ground cover instead of grass lawns, wasting less water and including conservation in the planning stage of developments are all great, but need to be a larger focus.

Smith isn’t a fan of efforts to try and build our way out of water concerns with large infrastructure, suggesting building less and staying out of the way can often be the best solution.

“Nature knows what it’s doing, it’s been doing it a while and it was just fine thank you, before we came along.”

Meanwhile, Fegan said the RDN is working with many partners from all levels of government and stakeholders on filling gaps in the knowledge and governance, but that they are big complicated, long-term issues.

She also pointed out that the new B.C. Water Sustainability Act just came into effect Feb. 29 and it will take a while for the details to be understood and take effect.

The RDN and MIVHES will both be at the World Water Day event in Qualicum Beach this Sunday, April 3.

Held at the Qualicum Commons (744 Primrose Ave.) from 10 a.m. to

5 p.m., there will be free speakers and workshops, interactive booths, kids’ activities, live music and food concessions.

For information on water day visit www.rdn.bc.ca/waterday, call 250-390-6560 or check out these links:

RDN Water Day: www.rdn.bc.ca/waterdayUN World Water Day: www.unwater.org/worldwaterdayMid-Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MIVHES): www.mvihes.bc.ca/Parksville water: www.parksville.ca/cms.asp?wpID=375Qualicum Beach water: www.qualicumbeach.com/cms.asp?wpID=665

2016 B.C. Water Sustainability Act: engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/B.C. groundwater observation wells: www.env.gov.bc.ca/soe/indicators/water/wells/B.C. river and snowpack supply: bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/bulletins/watersupply/current.htmRDN water monitoring: www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=3572

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