Snow on Mt. Benson. (Lana Johnson photo)

Officials say no drought worries with below-normal snowpack

Snow pillow nearest to Nanaimo at 69 per cent of normal levels, says B.C. government official

With the spring melt approaching and the snowpack below normal, officials don’t have any current concerns about the potential for water shortage.

David Campbell, head of B.C. River Forecast Centre, said the snow pillow gauge closest to Nanaimo, at Jump Creek, is at 69 per cent of normal as of this week. However there is no threat of drought, at least related to snowpack, at this time.

“It is definitely within that range of normal … it’s not super low. For the most part on the Island, the snow does play a bit of a role when we look at water supply into the summer, but it’s not as big of a role as we might think,” Campbell said. “We really are quite dependent on the weather on a day-to-day basis and we get the wet season during the fall and winter and the snow can contribute a little bit as we come into the summer, but it tends to not be a huge amount of the water that we do see except for the very highest areas of the Island.”

READ ALSO: Crews help evacuate Cedar residents due to flooding

Mike Squire, City of Nanaimo manager of water resources, doesn’t believe the current snowpack levels will pose a problem either. The area is seeing just above average for precipitation, he said.

“Our watershed is very low-lying, meaning we receive the majority of our precipitation in rain, and our reservoir is currently full right now,” said Squire. “We do have additional capacity when we raise the spillway gates another six feet. Usually we do that at the end of March. We’ll capture some of that snow melt that is in the foothills and bring us up to full capacity.”

Historically, Squire said the city has never been in a position where the reservoir has not been full.

“We’ve done yield assessments and we are very fortunate to have our watershed, which is plenty full in receiving a lot of rainfall and capturing it in our Jump Creek dam,” Squire said.

Julie Pisani, Regional District of Nanaimo drinking water and watershed protection program coordinator, said the RDN doesn’t have any current concerns, but it closely observes snowpack for summer drought potential around April.

“We still anticipate that snowpack can build over the next couple of months,” said Pisani. “Generally we do still see snowpack build into April and then what we start to look for is if there’s any indication of an early melt, or rapid melt and if that takes place rapidly, or sooner than usual, then that can indicate that we’d be looking at potential drought conditions moving into the summer. But at this stage in February, it’s still too early for us to really say one way or another.

She said the RDN will continue to check snow bulletins and weather stations and take another look at water management decisions closer to April.

Cedar saw evacuations due to a rainfall event earlier in February and when asked about flooding due to snow melt, Pisani said a rain on snow event, with intense rainfall coupled with snow melt, could lead to flooding in certain areas.

“We keep tabs on that and we definitely rely on information from the River Forecast Centre to anticipate, if at all possible, impending flooding concerns,” she said. “Mind you, forecasting is tricky work and there’s always so many variables at play.”

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