High snowpack levels curb Metro Vancouver's summer water shortage concerns

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Image: Michael Schmidt / Flickr

Metro Vancouver’s water supplies have received a much-needed reprieve this year to date with the accumulation of a relatively healthy snowpack.

According to the Regional District, as of the end of March, the watershed in the North Shore mountains has reached 83% of the historical snowpack average, a huge jump from this time last year when snowpack levels were in the high single digits or zero.

“Because of this year’s snowpack and the amount of precipitation that has fallen in our three watersheds, we are in a more-positive position than at this time last year,” reads a statement provided to Vancity Buzz.

“Last year was an anomaly, and we are in much better shape right now than we were at this time last year. Since the Water Shortage Response Plan was enacted in 1993, we have generally implemented the first stage of lawn sprinkling regulations. We have only gone to Stage 3 of the Plan twice, last summer and in 2003.”

All residents in the region receive their drinking water from three mountain reservoirs – Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam – fed by a watershed drainage area spanning 524 square kilometres.

Rainwater during the winter and spring replenishes the reservoirs while the slow late-spring and summer snow pack melt provides a piggy-bank that stores water for dry periods.

If necessary, additional water could potentially be pulled from the Coquitlam Reservoir, which is owned and used by B.C. Hydro for power generating purposes. But this would require negotiations as the Regional District only holds a license to use the water.

Last year’s water shortage sparked concerns that similar drought conditions could be more persistent in the decades to come. As a result, the Regional District began reviewing its Water Shortage Response Plan with local governments and stakeholders. The review is scheduled for completion in April 2017.

Some municipalities have called for the installation of water meters at residences to potentially reduce individual consumption. This is the norm in most of the other major jurisdictions elsewhere in Canada.

As a preventative measure, water restrictions this year will begin two weeks early and end two weeks later: Stage 1 will be enacted on May 15 instead of June 1 and water restrictions will last until October 15 instead of September 30.

The snow pack could begin its peak melting phase much earlier than usual this year with this week’s forecast of above seasonal weather with temperatures that could reach 24°C in some parts of the region.

Elsewhere in the province, snowpack levels have ranged mostly between normal to above normal – between 80% and 110% of the historical average as of March 1, the latest data provided by the B.C. River Forecast Centre. Snowpack levels are lower in some regions, hovering at 65% to 80% in the Upper Fraser East, Nechako, Central Coast, Skagit, Skeena-Nass, Stikine, and North-west.

The snowpack low is 55% in the Liard region while the high is 123% in the Okanagan.

Image: Metro Vancouver Regional District

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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