Parts of Vancouver Island, Shuswap region approach most extreme drought level

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      Eastern Vancouver Island and a watershed in the Shuswap region near Kamloops are just one level away from the most extreme drought rating in the province, and the rest of Vancouver Island, parts of the central Interior, and the entire Okanagan Valley are just one category below.

      A July 9 release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development warned that the Shuswap's Salmon River watershed and most of eastern Vancouver Island are at Drought Level 4 due to very low seasonal rainfall and the recent "heat dome" extreme heat episode.

      Level 4 conditions mean that harmful impacts on fish populations due to water scarcity and low flow are "very likely", according to the release.

      B.C. ranks drought conditions from zero to five, with Drought Level 5 signifying that "adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values" are "almost certain".

      Currently, the province has ranked the whole Okanagan Valley, the Nicola and Coldwater river watersheds near Merritt, western Vancouver Island, the Kettle River watershed near Grand Forks, the whole Cariboo region, and the Middle Fraser Basin as Drought Level 3.

      "Water conservation is everyone's responsibility and is being urged for all areas affected by drought," the ministry bulletin reads. "Residential, agricultural and industrial water users in affected areas must observe all water conservation bylaws, watering restrictions and advice from their local government, irrigation district or water utility.

      "Irrigators and water licensees in watersheds with water scarcity should prepare and plan in case additional targeted water restrictions or temporary protection orders under the Water Sustainability Act are required."

      Environment Canada forecasts for the next week for the Merritt and Kamloops areas show mostly cloudless skies with temperatures in the 30s. Predictions for Campbell River on eastern Vancouver Island show clear skies with some clouds showing up midweek and temperatures in the mid- to high 20s. The Osoyoos area in the southern Okanagan is forecast to be sunny with mid-30s temperatures and some clouds near the weekend.

      Little rain is forecast for the next week in affected areas, although Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, is predicted to receive a few days of precipitation.

      The provincial drought information site contains the following information on water rights during water-scarcity and drought conditions:

      "When voluntary conservation measures are not sufficient to meet all water rights, or to protect critical environmental flows or the survival of a fish population, the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) provides authority for statutory officials, under specified conditions, to regulate water diversion, use (and storage) by users of both stream water and groundwater. When this regulatory action is required, it can now involve groundwater users even if they do not have an authorization."