Shawnigan Lake, BC
My observation is that stage 3 water restrictions are likely the new norm for the community of Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia. Weather patterns have steadily shifted resulting in storms and increased rain during winter and almost no rain during summer when usage is at its high. Where once gardens and lawns remained green and lush year round, they are now dead by early July if not manually watered. While many decidedly alter their behaviours in an effort to reduce water usage, others require bylaw enforcement and the threat of fines to encourage water conservation. I have also observed how beliefs and behaviours continually recalibrate in an effort to resist holistic change, noting that "normal" is redefined and water, as a whole, continues to be taken for granted.
Summer water restrictions are common in Shawnigan Lake, however, historically they remained at stage 2 levels. This allowed certain flexibilities to residents and oftentimes, business as usual behaviours in terms of water usage continued, regardless of explicit bylaws promoting reductions. Yet, in July 2014, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) imposed a stage 3 level restriction for the first time. This was repeated in July 2015. Mandatory conversation was supported by those frustrated with their neighbours' wasteful habits (enforcement comes only after public complaints are made and there are only two enforcement officers in fifteen regions within the CVRD). Both resistance and tensions were heightened with fines actually imposed: Social friction was then added to the issue of appropriate water use and resulted in neighbour and governance resentment, disputes, and divides. Of course, the problems of water shortages are not entirely the result of current human behaviour. They are the consequence of historical and cumulative human impacts, which have ultimately caused global warming.
For specific definitions of stage 1-3 categories and the specific water restrictions as per the regulations of the CVRD see this Link
Trends of increasing temperatures in Shawnigan Lake have been very apparent this past week: Mon. April 18 reached 27.4°C; Tue. April 19 reached 25°C; and Wed. April 20 reached a staggering 28.1°C! The weather pattern for the month of April, both actual and anticipated, can be found at this Link. These trends can be compared with historical monthly averages for April from Canada Climate Graph with data from 1916 and Historical Monthly Averages for April (from a location closest to Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island) where data depict a range of daytime averages between 13°C and 22°C. The Canada Climate Data furthers an understanding of trends by indicating a daily April average temperature of 8.4°C, a daily maximum of 13.2°C, and a record high of 30°C on April 22, 1934.
In my view, the scenario of stage 3 water restrictions is unusual when considered in context of clearly unusual and increasing temperatures. Furthermore, given the historical logging practices of forest companies and the recent practices of First Nations (awarded Crown Lands through treaty negotiations), upland forests no longer have the capacity to sustain snow packs or store water as they once did. As a result, and in addition to increasing trends in local temperatures and increasing populations contributing to higher usage, water quantity is on a steady decline. Enforcing restrictions has, therefore, become a necessary form of mitigation; however, conservation through public education programs and incentives must be further addressed. This YouTube Link depicts an earth engine time lapse of development/deforesting in the Shawnigan Lake watershed between 1984 and 2012.
Consult from Dr. Bruce Fraser, Forest Ecologist, former Chair of BC's Forest Practices Board, former Area Director, President of the Shawnigan Basin Society:
The effects of climate change on the hydrology and ecology of the Shawnigan Basin are mounting. The Pacific Northwest in general is expected to see increased overall precipitation, but with it coming mostly in the form of rain and concentrated in major winter storms. Two main consequences arise. First is the erosive power of intense winter storms and second is the extreme droughts in the following summer.
These consequences add force to the many and varied human footprint impacts within the Basin - extensive clearcut logging, opening up of resource roads, gravel mining largely without land reclamation, contaminated soil dumping and increased habitation with pollution generated from the increasing number of septic fields at the base of the Shawnigan aquifer as it enters Shawnigan Lake.
Impacts on water quantity and quality are both growing. The quantity issue is arising, not because of overall supply, but because it is concentrated in winter when it is not needed and limited in summer when the greatest demands are placed by ecological flow needs from land, stream and lake ecosystems and human uses.
The quality issue is arising from increasing levels of pollution, both from silt driven turbidity and contamination from effluents, both of which make water remediation treatments necessary, more complicated and more expensive for public water supply systems. Water use restrictions and metering are also becoming more prevalent as water demand management is attempting to deal with the environmental limitations.
In the background there are two major long-term influences on the Shawnigan Watershed that integrate the effects of climate change and the local human footprint. Catastrophic wildfire would have major impacts on the hydrologic functions of the Douglas Fir and Dry Western Hemlock biogeoclimatic zones of the upland forests leading to greater flashiness in water flow and greater erosion and warmer stream water in summer. Fire is becoming more likely as the summers dry and public access to the forest on resource roads increases. The second influence is the accumulation of heat and nutrients in what has been a cold, oligotrophic lake. Forest loss, attendant overland flow and nutrient mobilization, nutrients from accumulating septic fields, all in warmer water, raise the potential of eutrophication.
The Shawnigan Watershed is on a decline trajectory that must be addressed at multiple levels. Upland forest conservation, stream and wetland conservation, septic system replacement, water treatment intensity and water use management all need to be worked on simultaneously to slow, arrest and reverse the decline.
Kelly Musselwhite Observer
Shawnigan Lake, BC
Royal Roads University
Climate change effects obvious on Cowichan River, wildfire season
Cowichan River, British Columbia, Canada
May 13, 2019
Cowichan Valley Citizen
Water shortage on Salt Spring Island
Saltspring Island, British Columbia, Canada
Jul 14, 2019
CRD warns visitors, dog owners of toxic algae in Beaver Lake
Elk Lake, British Columbia, Canada
Aug 10, 2019
Lake water to be pumped into B.C. river due to severe drought
Lake Cowichan, British Columbia, Canada
Aug 27, 2019
It’s spring, but B.C. is sounding the alarm on drought
British Columbia, Canada
Jun 11, 2019
Port Alberni Valley News