Hefty snowpack levels a positive sign for local drinking water: officials

By Ian Holmes
May 15, 2018 - 4:27pm Updated: May 16, 2018 - 3:44pm

Mt. Benson covered in snow, which means groundwater levels in the area sit at healthy levels. Kyla Stewart

NANAIMO — A healthy snowpack is welcome news to Vancouver Island officials as temperatures heat up.

New BC River Forecast Centre data showed snowpack levels on the Island were 104 per cent of normal, which is considered an average reading. The snowpack plays a critical role in recharging groundwater aquifers and streams.

Julie Pisani, drinking water and watershed protection program coordinator for the Regional District of Nanaimo, said a prolonged melt of the snowpack is preferred.

“It's like burning through your savings in one weekend as opposed to letting it stretch out over a couple of months,” she told NanaimoNewsNOW. “You want to have good volumes of snowpack, but you also want these melts being stretched out.”

Warm weather melting much deeper snowpack levels is what's caused significant flooding in the Okanagan and Kootenay Boundary region.

Pisani said rivers spilling their banks is not an immediate concern on the mid-island, though the situation can alter course in a hurry.

“We don't know what to expect in terms of changes in temperature and drought conditions that might be upon us,” Pisani said. “It's always good to conserve water and be in the habit of efficiency even if we have had a good snowpack year.”

It's a welcome change from a few years ago, when the May 2015 snowpack level was 14 per cent of normal. It lead to prolonged drought and severe drinking water shortages in parts of the regional district.

Donna McPherson, fire information officer at the Errington-based Coastal Fire Centre, said healthy snowpack levels come in handy for firefighters.

“It does make it easier for crews to find water if they do have a fire in the more remote areas, and the snowpack does extinguish high-elevation lightning strikes.”

The forest fire danger threat on the mid-island area is currently moderate, meaning the forest is drying and there's an increase risk of surface fires.

 

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Firefighters handle first brush fires of the season