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Okanagan bakes in Drought Level 4 conditions

With more hot weather in the forecast, people are asked to use water sensibly
Low stream flows, high water temperatures that can be lethal to fish, and sustained warm weather have prompted the B.C.government to move the Okanagan to Drought Level 4 condition. (File photo)

A lack of precipitation, low stream flows, high water temperatures that can be lethal to fish, and sustained warm weather have prompted the B.C. government to move the Okanagan to Drought Level 4 conditions (extremely dry where adverse impacts to socio-economic and ecosystem values are likely).

While water systems that are supported by upland storage reservoirs and mainstem lakes are doing okay, many important fish-bearing streams in the Okanagan are flowing well below normal and several are completely dry.

The forecast is for continued hot and dry weather this month, so it is unlikely that flows will improve without drastic conservation measures.

“The B.C. government is working with water licensees to ensure they reduce use, and is taking enforcement action where needed to protect the most sensitive areas,” said Corinne Jackson, Okanagan Basin Water Board communications director who, along with planning and policy director Kellie Garcia Bunting, authored drought bulletins on behalf of the OBWB.

“Water purveyors with upstream storage should closely follow their release schedule requirements to avoid low flows downstream. Flows in some streams can change rapidly during hot, dry conditions.”

People and businesses in affected areas should reduce water use wherever possible and observe all watering restrictions set by their water purveyor.

“We need to work together to make sure there is enough water for fish, agriculture, and fighting wildfires,” said Jackson, who added local water restrictions (stages) are set using different indicators than provincial drought levels and federal drought ratings. (Learn more at

Whether a community moves to a higher restriction stage depends on several factors, including customer demand, infrastructure capacity, and local water supply conditions (e.g. reservoir storage), which can vary across the region.

As of July 27, most of B.C.’s water basins have been elevated to Extremely Dry (Level 4) or Exceptionally Dry (Level 5).

To help residents do their part, the OBWB’s Okanagan WaterWise outreach and education program is working with water utilities to deliver the Make Water Work campaign, tackling the second largest use of all water in the Okanagan – outdoor residential use in summer.

It includes a website that encourages residents to pledge to conserve with a chance to win a $500 WaterWise yard upgrade, and provides tried and true tips to maintain a beautiful yard while conserving water.

The pledges and tips include:

• Water between dusk and dawn;

• Water plants, not pavement;

• Never mow low. Let it grow;

• Tune up your irrigation system;

• Aerate the lawn and top dress with compost;

• Choose plants suitable to our dry climate.

Visit to find tips, the Make Water Work Plant Collection, watering restrictions and more.


Water is essential to fish and ecosystem health, food production, and fire suppression in the Okanagan.

The Okanagan is home to many fish species that are culturally important to the Syilx people, support a vibrant fishery, and are critical for healthy freshwater systems.

Low water levels are occurring in several streams in the Okanagan and are resulting in fish kills (die-offs) due to stranding. Low oxygen and high water temperatures are also a threat.

“If conditions don’t improve, fish will have a difficult or impossible time returning to their spawning areas this fall,” said Jackson. “By using water efficiently on our farms, in businesses, and in our yards now, we can help keep enough water in the streams for fish spawning later in the year.”

Many crops in the Okanagan will still need water for the next couple of months. Hot and dry conditions make for thirsty plants. But good water management by farmers is possible, and is crucial in a year like this.

Fix leaks, assess and improve your irrigation system, and adjust your irrigation schedule to use water as efficiently as possible. See for drought management resources created specifically for agriculture.

Water is also needed for fire suppression and protection, particularly during this year’s extreme fire season.

More than 1,500 fires have started in the province this year, and there are currently 348 active fires. Of these, 28 are in the Kamloops Fire Centre area, which includes the Okanagan, and four are wildfires of note (highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety).

READ MORE: Okanagan Nature Nut: Perseid meteor showers peak Saturday

READ MORE: Wildfire discovered east of Naramata

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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