Metro Vancouver's water shortage: Affecting more than your home-grown tomatoes.

Image by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington | flickr.com

Image by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington | flickr.com

Many Vancouverites would have once considered the idea of water shortage in this area impossible. This mindset is reflected in the 350 litres of water per day consumed by Canadians, while Europeans use an average of only 150 litres. My mother used to say that we’ll never run out of water in the Greater Vancouver area - but this year shows us it just might be possible.

This year has been so warm and dry that July has brought stage three water restrictions to Metro Vancouver, preventing residents from watering their lawns and gardens in the same ways they are accustomed to. According to Metro Vancouver, the problem began with a lack of winter snow, as also experienced by Whistler skiers and snowboarders. It then continued with a dry spring and culminated in hot summer weather.

While most Vancouver residents may be concerned with their lawns and tomatoes and questioning the ongoing watering of playing fields, the water shortage has a far wider reach than many of us realize.

There are thousands of coho salmon sitting in Burrard Inlet. If they continue migrating up North Shore rivers, they could perish from the 20-degree Celsius water temperatures - warmer water does not contain enough oxygen for them. And staying in Burrard Inlet is dangerous, too - sport fishing and predators means a delay in getting upstream to spawn. This could directly affect the size of future salmon populations.

Metro Vancouver’s water reservoirs affect how much water is in the rivers for the salmon. The more we use, the less is left for the salmon.

It is hard to predict what the eventual outcome of the drought will be for the salmon and for us, and to what degree climate change may be involved.

Climate change has to do with long term averages and trends over time, so we cannot simply draw the conclusion that recent weather extremes are direct effects of climate change. That, we must leave to climate scientists, in the hopes that the government will allow them to speak freely about whatever their findings may be.

However, it is clear that Vancouver is not immune to water shortage as we once thought, and that we will have to adapt to this reality. As for the salmon, we can look for temporary ways to help them and hope for their resilience.  In the long-term, however, we must re-evaluate the way we look at water ecosystems - particularly those affecting salmon - as our climate continues to change in order to maintain overall fish function.