“May is the turning point. We are not going to get any more snow and weather conditions will determine how the snow melt progresses,” utility manager Shane Walkey stated as he delivered a water supply update to the May 11 Sunshine Coast Regional District committee meeting.
Walkey explained that May snowpack in the Chapman water system watershed is vulnerable to high temperatures that cause rapid snow melt. Higher-than-normal temperatures forecast by Environment Canada for B.C.’s south coast over Mother’s Day weekend are only a start. Walkey advised the committee the long-term forecast from that organization indicated a “50 to 80 per cent chance” of above-normal temperatures continuing in the area through May, June and July.
“The lakes are currently full, but Environment Canada has noted that watersheds and soil conditions are still impacted from last year’s drought,” he stated. As for projections on precipitation, he said that those are only “relatively accurate with a three-day horizon,” with no outlook about rain levels for later in the summer available.
Will 2023 include Stage 4 restrictions?
An SCRD snow survey conducted May 8 showed that the remaining snowpack in the watershed is about nine per cent higher that the average in comparison to early May in previous years at both Chapman and Edwards Lakes. Walkey said that snow levels in 2022, 2021 and 2018 were also above normal and that in each, stage 4 water restrictions were called. He said a snowpack assessment may be done in early June, if enough snow remains at the lakes to make that effort worthwhile.
He stated regrets that he had used the words “How many days until Stage 4?” in the title of one of his report presentation slides. “I’m not sure we are going there,” he told the committee. With additional water supplies including the Church Road well field and earlier access to water from the Town of Gibsons possible, he said the SCRD is “in a better position this year than last year."
“Our goal is to preserve stored water in the Chapman watershed for as long as possible,” he said.
Chairperson Alton Toth (Sechelt area director) allowed audience questions immediately following committee discussion of Walkey’s report. One individual appealed to the committee members to expedite solutions to water supply issues as “Stage 4 is a certainty in our view” she said.
Another audience member expressed the view that if the Coast’s water problems were occurring in a Lower Mainland, they “would be solved by now.” His question to the committee was, “Are we demanding action of the province or are we waiting around for a response?”
Toth responded that follow-up actions are being taken. Referring to efforts on the Church Road well licensing, chief administrative officer Dean McKinley said staff are in contact with provincial counterparts weekly.