Continuing hot, dry, windy conditions have prompted the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources to announce on Friday a Level 4 drought rating for the Island.
The province also suspended angling in streams and rivers across southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands to protect fish already stressed by dwindling and warming water flows.
Level 4 is the highest drought level rating, meaning further declines in steam, lake and aquifer level could lead to water shortages affecting people, agriculture, wildlife and fish stocks.
Julie Pisani, Regional District of Nanaimo drinking water and watershed protection program coordinator, said the regional district expected the announcement is taking it seriously.
“For now we’re going to remain at Level 3 watering restrictions and monitor the situation over the next week,” Pisani said, adding that if residents don’t dramatically reduce water consumption the regional district could enforce a Level 4 watering ban.
The RDN’s Level 4 restrictions mean no sprinkling lawns and gardens, no car washing or other outdoor water uses. People would still be able to hand-water vegetable gardens, trees and shrubs.
Bill Sims, city manager of water resources, said city officials would meet Monday or Tuesday to discuss how the city should respond. So far, people have responded to municipal Level 2 water restrictions and much of the city’s effort has been about educating people about current restrictions.
Nanaimo’s Jump Lake reservoir is at 90 per cent capacity and if residents continue to conserve water supplies should last until October.
Nanaimo River water flow is currently 25 per cent below seasonal normal with a flow rate of three cubic metres per second as the Jump Creek and Island Forest Products dams release water to protect fisheries.
“We want to respond appropriately with our main focus to be preserving our water supply and also the environmental health of the Nanaimo River,” Sims said.
The regional district also closed the Trans Canada Trail between the Timberlands Road trailhead near the Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge and the Harewood Mines Road trailhead in Naniamo due extreme fire hazards. All logging road gates on Timberwest and Island Timberlands private forestry lands on the east side of the Island were also closed to the public as of Wednesday.