BC Government Warns of Drought - Urges Water Conservation

As drought conditions worsen, with unprecedented levels of drought being observed in British Columbia this early in the season, people and businesses are urged to prioritize water conservation.

In B.C., drought levels are measured on a 0-5 scale. Drought Level 5 means it is almost certain that an area will see adverse effects on communities and ecosystems. 

As of July 13, four of B.C.’s 34 water basins are at Drought Level 5: Fort Nelson, Bulkley Lake, West Vancouver Island and East Vancouver Island. There are 18 water basins at Drought Level 4 – meaning more than two-thirds of these basins are in level 4 or 5.

Provincial staff are monitoring the situation and working to balance water use with environmental flow needs. Data is reviewed weekly to support the determination of drought levels. Updates to drought levels occur every Thursday.

Government has been working with communities during the past few months to prepare, including working with local government partners and First Nations.

With the activation of the BC Drought and Water Scarcity Response Plan in April 2023, area-specific drought response plans are under development with First Nations, local authorities, licensees and stakeholders.

The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness is helping communities with their water-scarcity response planning through the release of an emergency water-scarcity planning template and a water-demand survey tool, and is ready to support other planning efforts throughout the drought season. Drought was a key topic during seasonal readiness sessions hosted throughout B.C. this year. First Nations and local authorities will continue to receive updates on conditions, including the long-term weather outlook.

In addition to supporting community drinking-water plans, a program is in place so the Province can reimburse First Nations and local authorities for the costs of transporting drinking water and desalinization when needed.

Additionally, the Province will be releasing a Water Scarcity Dashboard in the coming weeks. The dashboard is intended for First Nations and local authorities to help with their forecasting, modelling and decision-making for water supply and demand concerns.

If conservation measures do not achieve sufficient results and drought conditions worsen, temporary protection orders under the Water Sustainability Act may be issued to water licensees to avoid significant or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystems.

Drought is a recurring feature of climate change that involves reduced precipitation, such as rain, during an extended period of time, resulting in a water shortage. Drought can affect people in different ways, resulting in agricultural, health, economic and environmental consequences.

Every drop counts – people are encouraged to conserve water where possible.

Indoor water conservation tips:
 - Reduce personal water use, such as taking shorter showers.
 - If washing dishes by hand, fill the sink, rather than letting the water run freely.
 - Instead of running the tap, keep a jug of cool water in the fridge.
 - Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth or shaving.
 - Regularly check your home for leaks. Undetected leaks in your home can waste many litres of water each year.
 - Run full loads of laundry and full loads in the dishwasher.

Outdoor water conservation tips:
 - Water lawns sparingly.
 - Water things, such as gardens, in the morning or evening to reduce evaporation.
 - Clean the driveway with a broom instead of a hose.
 - Check for leaks in outdoor pipes, faucets and hoses.
 - Talk to a local nursery or garden supplies centre about drought-tolerant plants.
 - Use rain barrels to collect rainwater for outdoor plant use.
 - If you have a swimming pool, consider a water-saving pool filter.

B.C. uses a drought classification to explain the severity of drought, the classifications include:
 - Drought Level 0: There is sufficient water to meet socio-economic and ecosystem needs.
 - Drought Level 1: Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are rare.
 - Drought Level 2: Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are unlikely. 
 - Drought Level 3: Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are possible. 
 - Drought Level 4: Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are likely.
 - Drought Level 5: Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are almost certain.

Water basins under Drought Level 5 include: 
 - Fort Nelson
 - Bulkley Lake 
 - West Vancouver Island
 - East Vancouver Island

Water basins under Drought Level 4 include:
 - Lower Columbia
 - West Kootenay
 - East Kootenay
 - Middle Fraser
 - Haida Gwaii 
 - Coldwater River
 - East Peace
 - Finlay
 - Lower Mainland
 - North Peace
 - North Thompson
 - Parsnip
 - Salmon River
 - South Peace
 - South Thompson
 - Sunshine Coast
 - Upper Fraser East
 - Upper Fraser West

Learn about general water conservation tips:

To view drought levels in your area and throughout the province, visit the Drought Portal for maps and tables:

Learn more about droughts in B.C.:

Read through the water conservation guide:

Learn how to manage droughts in agriculture: