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British Columbia

B.C. snowpack about 40% below normal, as Eby worries of ‘dramatic drought conditions’

COQUITLAM, B.C. — B.C.’s average snowpack is almost 40 per cent lower than normal, raising concerns about what Premier David Eby says are “some of the most dramatic drought conditions that have been seen in our lifetime.”

The province’s latest snow bulletin says levels remain “very low” at 61 per cent of normal, compared to 79 per cent of normal this time last year.

The bulletin shows the snowpack is especially sparse across the South Coast, ranging from 30 per cent of normal on Vancouver Island to 47 per cent in the Lower Fraser region.

The Stikine region in northwestern B.C. has the highest snowpack in the province at 90 per cent of the average.

Eby says he’s “really worried” about the coming summer, and the only thing that “eclipses” his concern about drought is watching atmospheric rivers of rain sweep over California, causing landslides and flooding that have killed several people.

The premier says it feels like the extreme weather B.C. is experiencing is an “early warning sign for the rest of Canada about what’s coming with climate change.”

Close to 100 wildfires continue to smoulder in the province, holdovers from last year’s record-breaking fire season, the premier added.

“This marks the year when I learned that fires can actually burn underneath snow, I didn’t know that was a thing,” Eby said at an unrelated news conference on Thursday.

Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said he can’t recall another time when he was so concerned about the snowpack levels.

He said salmon depend on snowmelt to feed streams and rivers at every stage in their life cycle, from hatching out of gravel to returning from the ocean to spawn.

Hill said last summer’s drought led to several fish mortality events, where rivers either ran dry or the shallow water heated up to temperatures lethal for salmon.

The lower the snowpack heading into the spring, he said, the earlier waterways are likely to reach flow levels that are “critically low” for salmon and their ecosystems.

“We could get lucky and have a nice wet, rainy, spring and summer and it could take a lot of the sting out of this, but if it’s not, then we’re in trouble,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.

The Canadian Press