Local drinking water officials encouraged by snowpack levels

By Ian Holmes
January 23, 2017 - 1:41pm Updated: January 23, 2017 - 2:38pm

Jump Lake, the city of Nanaimo's drinking water reservoirBill Sims/City of Nanaimo

NANAIMO — A Regional District of Nanaimo water expert isn't prepared to call a healthy snowpack a slam dunk in reversing potential summer drought conditions.

The RDN's drinking water and watershed protection coordinator Julie Pisani says provincial data showing 98 per cent of normal snowpack levels for Vancouver Island is a positive sign.

However, she's hoping warm temperatures at higher elevations over the next several weeks can be avoided.

“That would be a premature melt,” said Pisani. “We wouldn't have reached the level of snow accumulation that we would like to see in order to store that volume of water to help recharge our rivers and our ground water into the spring and to provide us for the summer as well.”

Pisani said the next several weeks are critical in building up snow reserves to create a “slow trickle” which will feed surface and ground water aquifers in the summer when it's needed most.

She says rainfall isn't much of a help this time of year in terms of storing drinking water when demand rises later on.

“At this point of the year, the ground is so saturated already, we've almost hit a point where groundwater levels are recharged, the ground is really saturated, we can't really absorb much more,” she said. “If we're looking at storage capacity, snowpack is really what we want to see.”

According to the BC River Forecast Centre, average snowpack levels on Vancouver Island last winter at this time were about 85 per cent of normal. It was a much different story during the previous two winters, where snowpacks were alarmingly low – about 30 per cent of normal, according to the provincial government.

A severe drought in the summer of 2015 hit many rural groundwater customers hard on the mid-island, as well as surface water customers in the city of Parksville.

The city of Nanaimo's water resources manager Bill Sims says having decent snowfall this winter is nice insurance to have in countering increased peak-season demand.

“We're happy about that,” he said. “It gives us that pre-storage that resides up in the hill that trickles down over the course of the springtime and helps fill our reservoir.”

Sims says a significant amount of this winter's snowfall will end up in the Jump Lake Reservoir.

“Right now we've got about two months of drinking water stored in snow, that's just a gut sense I have.”

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