Cranbrook, BC (February 5, 2024) – Current snowpack conditions so far this winter season indicate that the snowpack is roughly 52 percent of normal, and only 66% of last season. This will translate into much less water from the City’s watersheds unless we get significant precipitation for the remainder of the winter and into the spring, and early summer.
Administration provided an update to Council at their regular meeting on Monday night.
This data comes from a BC Hydro automated station, located on Moyie Mountain, which provides vital meteorological data to Provincial databases and important forecasting data to the City of Cranbrook. Snow from Moyie Mountain feeds into the City’s Gold Creek watershed which helps fill the Phillips Reservoir and provides water to residents and businesses.
The black line on the graph above shows the historical daily median. The green line shows the snowpack for 2022/2023, while the blue line shows the snowpack for this winter so far in 2023/2024.
Currently, the water level in Phillips Reservoir is down 5 feet from where is usually is this time of year. Initial reports from the City’s contractor who monitors the creek flows, reports that creeks are running 20 percent lower compared to normal conditions.
“We are having some high-level discussions internally about updating our overall operational plan for the City, around how we use water,” says Jason Perrault, Deputy Director of Public Works. “A number of things we are considering include starting the outdoor irrigation season right out of the gates on Stage 2, or even Stage 3 water restrictions, with more surveillance ensuring people aren’t watering when they shouldn’t be.”
Operationally, Administration is also exploring deferring the annual uni-directional flushing for water quality, reducing dust control to only one treatment instead of two, and cutting irrigation activities and only irrigating priority sports fields. Reducing the operating hours of the two spray parks is also being considered.
Concerns have been raised about efforts to add housing and development to the City, despite the challenges in the watershed and the continued push by the City for people to reduce water use. Managing the need for housing and the recent provincial housing legislation, while balancing the risks and impacts of drought and water supply is top of mind for both Council and Administration.
“The City’s recent Housing Needs Assessment shows an immediate demand for more housing. Routine household water use is not the major issue here, and the City is focusing efforts on higher density and infill type housing forms that tend to have much less of a water demand, especially for the irrigation and outdoor water use that is the primary issue, says Mike Matejka, Director of Engineering and Development Services.”
The City, through the province have enough water supply licenses secured in Joseph and Gold Creek that would sustain City growth projections for another 35 years or more through 2070. The City could further extend supply and growth beyond this date if a concerted effort by the community is made to significantly reduce its overall water consumption. Currently the City uses about 600 litres per person, per day compared to the provincial average of about 465 litres per person, per day.
Routine household water use is not a critical contributor to water restrictions and peak water consumption. Summer outdoor water use for lawns and gardens is the primary reason for peak consumption during the summer and must be reduced during drought and supply challenges. Landowners, developers, and builders can contribute to reducing the impact of summer outdoor irrigation through landscape and development standards that minimize water demand and focus on drought tolerance.
The City’s Engineering & Development Services department will also be reviewing and updating policies and guidelines to encourage development and landscaping practices that minimize the need for water use and irrigation, while still supporting the benefits of trees, vegetation, and overall community beautification as development occurs. This is mirroring operational changes being undertaken by the City itself.
Although drought conditions continue to be a challenge to the City, several significant projects, initiatives, and studies are underway to proactively plan for and secure a long-term, sustainable water supply for Cranbrook. One of the most significant is the Water Quality and Supply Master Plan, completed in 2022, which identified several major capital upgrades that will be required to both facilitate growth and housing in the City, while proactively mitigating the impacts of climate change and more frequent drought conditions.
Also significant is the City’s investment in planning and design for a new dam and 200 megaliter reservoir in Gold Creek near the existing dam and water intake structure, as well as other major upgrades to the distribution and storage system that would improve resilience and reduce risk of supply disruptions. The new Gold Creek dam and reservoir are in the final stages of approvals with the Province, with the City actively reviewing funding and grant opportunities to undertake the project.
Administration has been meeting regularly to discuss the challenges 2024 may bring, while considering important updates to the City’s Outdoor Water Regulation bylaw, and changes to the City’s Outdoor Watering policy. Administration will be bringing forward these updates to Council for consideration in March.