The severe water shortage facing the Village of McBride in central B.C. has stretched into the new year with no end in sight.
Mayor Gene Runtz told CBC’s Daybreak North that due to restrictions and conservation efforts there is “barely sufficient” drinking water for his town of over 600 people.
“Our big problem is that for the second year in a row, we’re looking at almost no precipitation falling. We get plenty of clouds that come over and lots of wind, but almost no precipitation. There is some snow in the mountains, but it’s nothing like what it should be,” said Runtz.
On Jan. 2 the town, about a 209-kilometre drive southeast of Prince George, extended its drought state of emergency for a 15th consecutive week. It was first declared Sept. 19, 2023, after reaching Stage 5 drought conditions, the highest level on the province’s severity scale. The town is currently sitting at Stage 4.
According to Runtz, the water shortage has been worsened by too much water a few years ago. In 2020, when a record high snow pack registering 230 per cent of normal levels melted, it washed out the natural drainage network that feeds the Dominion Creek watershed, where the town’s reservoir is located.
“We went from a stream that was a very stable water supply with very little clouding to one that now, because of the damage done in the lower reaches, has quite a bit of sedimentation loads in the spring.”
McBride, like many parts of the province, has been unseasonably warm with very little snow in the past months, a condition some are calling a “snow drought.”
According to University of Northern British Columbia environmental sciences associate professor Joseph Shay, a snow drought can be the result of two things.
“It could be it’s dry and it’s not snowing,” he told Daybreak North. “But it could also be that it’s just too warm to snow, or the snow that does fall just melts away. So you don’t have the snowpack built up like you would normally have.”
Smaller than normal snow packs exacerbate drought because of lower melt water levels into the spring and summer. Snow droughts will have a knock-on effect on B.C.’s increasingly destructive wildfire seasons.
But Shay said it’s too early to declare whether B.C. is in a snow drought.
“Winter snow accumulations will continue until April, sometimes May in the mountains and that’s a good five months out. Hopefully we get a good series of storms that will replenish those snowpacks and build them up,” he said.
Shay said historical data on provincial snowpack levels isn’t consistent, making it hard to do a systematic analysis about how this year compares previous years.
The B.C. River Forecast Centre does put out a Snow and Water Supply Bulletin with the first of the season set to be released on Jan. 9.
This past fall, McBride installed monitoring equipment that publishes a daily reading of the town’s water supply and consumption levels. Over the past 30 days the town has been under the daily usage target, and well below 2022 usage rates.
However the fear is if the dry weather continues, conditions will worsen.
“We’re probably OK for the winter, but we’re just not getting any amount of snowfall again this year,” he said.
“We’ll probably be at even lower flows than what we’ve had so we’re looking at how we can change and get more flow into the [reservoir] stream.”