The Kettle River Basin remains in a state of severe drought, despite impressive conservation efforts by local governments across the Boundary.
A provincial assessment Wednesday, Sept. 8, left the watershed at Drought Level 5, the highest score on B.C.’s new 0-5 scale, according to the B.C. Drought Information Portal. Water levels are critical in the West Boundary, where record lows were clocked at four monitoring stations between Westbridge and the Christian Valley in the South and the Carmi and Big White areas further North.
“We would generally never want to see the Kettle at level five,” Kristina Anderson, watershed planner at the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), said Thursday. The extreme drought persists after wetter than normal conditions in August. But Anderson said last month’s rains weren’t enough to make up for this spring and early summer’s incredible dry spell.
It may be weeks before fall rains boost levels even to normal seasonal lows, prompting the forest ministry to issue a regional clarion call. All water users in the West Kootenay are strongly encouraged to cut consumption by 50 per cent, while users on the Kettle are asked to cut consumption by “as much as possible,” according to a ministry email that went out Wednesday.
“The City of Grand Forks, the Village of Midway and the City of Greenwood have all made excellent efforts in terms of communication and education to reduce as much as possible their uses of the watershed,” Anderson continued.
Grand Forks Mayor Brian Taylor said the city has consistently maintained a drop of about 50 per cent since Stage-3 watering restrictions came online in July. A city bylaw officer had to remind 19 people to stay within these limits in the first few days, but Taylor said there haven’t been any reported incidents this summer where water abuses amounted to a ticket.
The city has meanwhile stopped irrigating many public spaces, especially the baseball diamond at Donaldson Park, which Taylor said was “golden brown.”
Parks are “all yellow” in Midway, where village council cut-off irrigation in mid-August, according to chief administrative officer Penny Feist. At the best of times, Feist said residential watering is restricted to 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., when cooler temperatures curb evaporation rates.
Villagers are now held to one hour per day within those hours, she noted.
Greenwood residents have been under strict watering restrictions since early August.
Forest minister Katrine Conroy on Aug. 30 issued a protection order halting irrigation for forage crops (e.g., hay and dairy alfalfa) watered by the West Kettle and its tributaries.
Greenwood City Hall and School District 51, which operates 11 Boundary schools, were not available for comment when The Gazette filed this story Friday morning.