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Lack of snowpack leaves city officials monitoring water levels in reservoir

If you’ve looked up and wondered if there’s less snow on the mountains than normal for this time of year you’d be right, but the city isn’t panicking over a possible summer water shortage just yet.

To sustain the city’s water supply through the summer months a lot of snow needs to pile up over the winter in the mountains around Nanaimo’s Jump Creek Reservoir where heavy snow melt in late spring and early summer followed by slower melt from higher elevations through the rest of the summer help fill the reservoir and keep it topped up through the dry months.

So far an unusually dry winter on the Island has hindered skiers and kept city water workers maintaining a close watch on provincial and local snowpack gauges.

“We’ve been monitoring those a fair bit, but in both cases we’re seeing that snowpack is probably about five to 10 per cent of where it normally would be this time of year,” said Bill Sims, city manager of water resources.

Sims said at high altitudes there are only about 25 centimetres of snow where there should be about 120 cm. “We do rely on the snowmelt later in the season – May and June – to fill the reservoir,” Sims said.

Sims referred to the lack of precipitation as a winter drought, but said staff are not overly worried yet because there is still potential for heavy snowfall through February, March and April.

“But having said that, so far this year we’re not seeing much action,” Sims said. “It has happened. 2005 I think was a pretty dry year as well.”

If the snow doesn’t start building up soon, staff will manage the shortfall by starting filling operations – collecting rainwater – at the Jump Creek Reservoir earlier than usual.

The reservoir can hold 16.5 million cubic metres of water or enough drinking water to supply all of Nanaimo for an entire year, however some water gets consumed for other uses, such as business and industrial.

“Our target is usually to have our Jump Creek reservoir full by the end of June and so we believe we can hit that even though we have this dry weather,” Sims said. “Yes, we’re concerned. Yes, we’re vigilantly watching it, but at the same time there’s lots of opportunity for things to improve.”

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