B.C.-Clayoquot-Sound-drought-salmonhousahtGuardian616-scaled (1)

What the reality of drought looks like in B.C.

The Narwhal’s When in Drought series highlights how watersheds across the province are threatened by abnormally dry conditions and what innovative communities are doing to keep precious water flowing

Summer may be officially over, but the promise of cooler and wetter weather is still far away for many regions in Canada struggling with record drought.

British Columbia has been particularly hard hit by extreme dry conditions these past few months. As The Narwhal watched the province scramble to deal with dangerously low water levels, we wanted to do something to highlight the watersheds under threat. So over the summer we launched our When in Drought series, which takes a look at how people are working to keep water flowing to communities and ecosystems across the province. 

From Vancouver Island to the Interior, British Columbians have been coming up with innovative ways to adapt to constantly changing landscapes altered by the climate crisis.

Drought isn’t just a problem for humans. In fact, we’re an incredibly adaptable species compared to B.C.’s vulnerable salmon populations. 

Along the Bedwell River on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Ahousaht Guardians noticed salmon trapped in pools of water that were dangerously warm and low. These pools, usually full of cool water, were so shallow that Byron Charlie, an Ahousaht Guardian, said they weren’t much beyond “puddles.”

Knowing rain wasn’t due any time soon, Charlie and his restoration team set to work rescuing the trapped juvenile coho. While they were able to rescue hundreds at a time, there was no way the team could save them all. Many fry died as the pools in which they were trapped evaporated in the hot summer sun.

The challenges for fish in Bedwell Sound go well beyond just this summer’s drought, which is exacerbating decades-old problems associated with destructive logging practices all around Clayoquot Sound that have left riverbanks stripped of trees and vegetation and subject to severe erosion. 

Bedwell River, like so many waterways across the province, is suffering from the impacts of not only the climate crisis, but also the broad destruction and mismanagement of watersheds.

But that’s where all the good work of local communities comes in; Ahousaht Guardians and conservationists are digging out part of the river washed out by erosion and have spent September planting new trees to help restabilize its banks. Soon enough, the water — and the salmon — will flow again.

In the Kettle River watershed, located in central southern B.C., people struggling to maintain their family farms are drawing connections between drought and logging, while watershed planners are rolling up their sleeves to repair under-appreciated rivers and riparian areas. Along B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, what was once a rainforest all year long is now parched in summer, so families, brewers and farmers are coming up with inventive ways to store and share water with those who need it most. 

You can read more about how British Columbians are doing extraordinary things to survive and even thrive in the new normal of drought in our When in Drought series. 

Take care and fix your leaky faucets,

Josie Kao
Assistant editor

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