Kamloops council to review new response plan as city prepares for possible severe drought

City planning for drought

The City of Kamloops is preparing for the possibility of another year of severe drought, introducing a response plan with new measures intended to help conserve water.

Council will vote on preparing the necessary bylaw changes to support the drought response plan during its Tuesday meeting.

“Drought is one of those things — it’s not a moment in time, it’s often a cumulative effect,” said Greg Wightman, the city’s utility services manager.

He noted last summer’s drought had its origins in a precipitation deficit at the end of 2022. A low snowpack combined with a quick spring melt left the region in dry conditions through the summer months.

This winter, a January snowfall helped to somewhat bolster the snowpacks in regional basins, but concern remains for the year ahead. Wightman said the North Thompson River basin is at 73 per cent of seasonal average and the South Thompson at 81 per cent.

“The impacts of the drought that we saw last year in ’23 are still there. And regardless of the snowpack, we're still going to see the impact of lower groundwater tables and things like that,” he said.

“Certainly the current snowpack is concerning — it’s less than we'd like to see. There's still two to three months of snow accumulation season left here so there's a possibility that could change, but right now it is looking like all the factors are there for another potentially severe drought season.”

New plan for drought response

The new drought response plan, which will be reviewed during Tuesday’s council meeting, includes new water use restrictions and a phased irrigation reduction plan for City of Kamloops irrigation systems to be implemented during certain levels of drought.

Wightman said the plan was developed after consultation with other municipalities, and incorporates feedback from the public.

Last summer, Wightman said the community had an “incredible response” to the city’s drought response actions, resulting in a 58 per cent reduction of water use when compared to the year before, equal to 1.4 billion litres of water saved.

The B.C. government's six-level drought classification system is used as a trigger for the various measures laid out in the plan. Wightman said one of the major changes the city is looking at in its drought response plan is a shift to year-round restrictions, something other communities have also implemented.

"It's just an acknowledgement of the fact that we are having warmer springs that are starting earlier than they have in the past, and they're lasting longer as well," Wightman said, noting the fall season is also warmer.

The plan outlines a new address-based sprinkling system, where the city will be divided into three groups and will have three days per week where they are able to water and use sprinklers. Wightman said this will allow for a gradual decrease of watering days based on the level of drought.

He noted the plan allows for drip irrigation, responding to feedback from members of the community who use this system to maintain trees, shrubs and food-producing plants.

The plan includes an operational guide for city crews to reduce municipal irrigation use through increasing drought levels while protecting public infrastructure.

Wightman said the community can also expect to see drought signage, which will show the level of drought on a sliding scale similar to wildfire risk signs.

'One of these new realities'

He said looking ahead to the future, the community will need to consider how it uses water in order to ensure it is conserved for drinking, fire protection, and for environmental protection.

“The drought that we saw over 2023 was very extreme, and the fact that we're seeing the similar kind of early-season indicators for ’24 is also concerning. It's going to be a continuation of what we saw throughout 2023, and whenever you have that, the possibility for it to become worse is certainly there,” Wightman said.

“I think it's just becoming one of these new realities — and it’s something where we as a community are going to have to really take a good long hard look at things that we have valued in the past, having green lawn in August when it’s 40 C out is probably not going to be a reality anymore.”

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