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Frequently Asked Questions

How is water managed during a drought?

The Province manages drought by following the Drought Response Plan. Learn about what the provincial and local government roles and responsibilities are and the actions they take during a drought.

1) How is drought managed in B.C.?

  • The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) coordinates the BC Drought Response Plan, which outlines the provincial actions taken before, during and immediately after a drought.
  • As part of this plan, water licensees are encouraged to conserve water. The Water Act and Fish Protection Act provide the Province tools to regulate water use. In cases of extreme water shortage, restrictions and suspensions on water use can be invoked under the Water Act and Fish Protection Act.
  • The BC River Forecast Centre provides bi-weekly drought level updates for each significant water basin of the province.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture provides advice and drought management tools to farmers and ranchers who may be impacted by meteorological drought and/or loss of water.

2) What is a drought level? Are they different from watering restrictions?

  • Under the BC Drought Response Plan, there are four levels of drought, which describe predicted or current water levels in a water basin or stream.
  • Between January and May the levels indicate the potential for drought conditions to occur in a given area. By late June, the drought level can be fully measured and represents actual conditions and forecasts.
  • Level 1 is classified as “normal conditions” with sufficient water to meet human and ecosystem needs. The objective at Level 1 is preparedness, with a target of ongoing reductions in community water use.
  • Level 2 is classified as “dry conditions” with first indications of a potential water supply problem. The objective at Level 2 is voluntary conservation, with a target of a minimum 10% reduction in water use.
  • Level 3 is classified as “very dry conditions” with potentially serious ecosystem or socioeconomic impacts possible. The objective at Level 3 is voluntary conservation and restrictions, with a target of a minimum additional 20% reduction in water use.
  • Level 4 is classified as “extremely dry conditions” with a water supply insufficient to meet socioeconomic and ecosystem needs. The objective at Level 4 is voluntary conservation, restrictions and provincial regulatory response, with a target of maximum reduction in water use.
  • The drought levels determine the response actions under the BC Drought Response Plan. Drought response actions can range from effective and frequent communication, to voluntary conservation measures, mandatory restrictions and regulatory action.
  • Watering restrictions are decided by the local water authorities, while drought levels are determined by the Province.

3) What provincial actions are associated with a level 4 drought?

  • When a region reaches level 4 drought, the objectives are voluntary water conservation, watering restrictions and regulatory responses as required.
  • Actions under level 4 drought include:
    • Increased communication with all water users Communicate to agricultural producers how to reduce water use and provide information on coping with drought.
    • Implement regulatory controls under the Water Act, Fish Protection Act or other legislation as appropriate if voluntary measures are not enough to protect water uses and fish.
    • Monitor and enforce compliance with regulatory actions.

4) How does the Province decide which water permits/licences to restrict or suspend?

  • Water licences are governed by the Water Act. This act is based on an arrangement of precedence for water licensees - First in Time, First in Right (FITFIR). During water shortages, the oldest rights holders on a stream have priority over the newer rights holders. If there is insufficient water to satisfy all water licensees, the senior licensee may take the full licence quantity while junior licensees on the same stream may have their rights temporarily suspended. Licences issued on the same date are ranked by water use purposes, while licences with the same date and purpose have equal priority.
  • Under the Fish Protection Act, the Minister can issue an order for all water licensees or a sub-set of water licensees restricting or suspending water use on a particular waterway or portion of waterway. In issuing the order, the water needs of fish need to be balanced with the needs of agricultural producers.

5) What are local governments and other water suppliers’ roles in drought response?

  • Local governments and other water suppliers are responsible for having a drought plan and managing their water resources to ensure they can provide potable water to their communities.
  • Responsibilities include collecting drought information and identifying water management needs, identifying vulnerable aquatic ecosystems, implementing water conservation strategies, communicating with residents, and planning for and responding to emergencies.
  • A Local Drought Management team should be established to provide a coordinated response.
  • Many local governments have different stages of water restrictions.

6) What is a watering restriction and who decides what they are?

  • Local governments and other water suppliers are responsible for communicating water shortage information to their communities and implementing appropriate watering restrictions depending on the level of drought in their area and water levels in local water reservoirs.
  • Local government water restriction level may not align with provincially stated drought levels.

7) Why are farmers irrigating during the day when I am not allowed to water in my yard?

  • The farmer may be on a groundwater source. Withdrawal of groundwater is not currently licensed or regulated, this will change when the Water Sustainability Act comes into force in 2016.
  • If the farmer is on a municipal water system, they would follow the agricultural watering policy set up by their water supplier.
  • If the farmer uses water from a creek or river, they are bound by the terms and conditions of their water licence. When their irrigation system is designed, the recommendation is to withdraw the water at the lowest flow rate. The lowest flow rate requires the farmer to irrigate 24 hours per day when irrigation is required. If the farmer only irrigated for 12 hours, the flow rate would have to double to supply the crop. By irrigating 24 hours per day, the creek flows at a steadier state which is often better for fish. It is more efficient to operate a large irrigation system 24 hours per day than for shorter periods of time.
  • In the case of certain streams, where a site-specific assessment has been conducted, watering for shorter time periods, such as 12 hours, may be required.
  • Farmers try to be responsible water users by using tools like certified irrigation system designs, and irrigation scheduling calculators.
  • For more information see Ministry of Agriculture Drought Page.
What are the effects of drought?

Drought can have many impacts on local communities and the economy. Find out more about what the drought can affect in B.C.

What are the effects of drought?

  • Drought impacts communities, the environment, and the economy through its effect on streamflow, groundwater levels, lake level, community water supply, agriculture, industry, forestry, and aquatic ecosystem sustainability.
  • Agricultural impacts from drought mainly include reduced crop harvests and quality; livestock production suffers and pests increase. Drought is often associated with heat which may lead to early crop maturity or ripening.
What You Can Do

Water conservation is everyone’s responsibility, especially during drought. Learn more about why it is important to conserve water and the cost savings that go along with using less water.

Why is water conservation important?

  • Weather and user demands affect both the quantity and quality of our water.
  • Climate can directly affect how we manage our watersheds. Water can be in excess during floods and in extreme shortages during drought.
  • Human demands and pressures on water supplies are growing. These demands are also putting pressure on water for fish and other aquatic organisms.
  • Without enough water, the health and livelihood of the people and the economy of the province are put at risk.
  • British Columbians are encouraged to support conservation efforts and be stewards of their local water resource by conserving and protecting this vital resource for the environment, for communities and for the many livelihoods that depend on water.

What are the financial incentives to saving water?

  • When less water is used savings occur through reduced costs for water distribution, the less frequent need for infrastructure upgrades, less water is treated for drinking, and less sewage has to be treated.
  • The increased availability of water and the financial savings can then be directly transferred to other sectors, which in turn will boost growth and economic development in those sector.

To learn more about what you can do to save water in your community visit: