Nelson's water intake and reservoir at Mountain Station.

Nelson's water intake and reservoir at Mountain Station.

2015’s top stories No. 9: Nelson’s drought

Nelson almost ran out of water this past summer.

  • Dec. 30, 2015 1:00 p.m.

In 2015, Nelson woke up to the vulnerability of its water supply. City hall imposed severe water restrictions and put out a number of bulletins asking citizens to conserve water and explaining how. The Star wrote six stories about the issue, and you can see them listed and linked at the end of this article.

Our most recent water story, published in December, outlined city hall’s plans to build a secondary water treatment plant at lakeside to be used in case of emergency. The system would use water from the lake, treat it, and deliver it to some of the lower levels of town that would not require uphill pumping. The city’s Colin Innes told the Star that the system will be built in 2016.

In the middle of Nelson’s July heat wave, the Star reported the amount of water entering the city’s reservoir from Five Mile Creek (the city’s main supply) was a fifth of normal, and the amount we were using in our households and businesses was above normal.

David Campbell of the BC River Forecast Centre told us it was a result of low snowpack and high temperatures.

“What we saw this year is not common,” he said. “We have seen a combination of temperatures two degrees above normal for many months now, and very dry conditions through the spring and summer period. There have been other dry years, but none like this one. We are starting to see this in the rivers around the region with flows hitting historic lows for this time of year.”

He speculated that summers like that could become a trend because of climate change.

In September, the water shortage was worse than it had been in July. Even though temperatures were cooler, there had been very little rainfall. So the city moved its water restrictions from level three to level four. Innes put it in perspective: “It’s not like we have a glacier up there. We depend on the amount of water that falls on it. In the immediate runoff from a rain event, it will look like you have a lot, but what comes at you over time is what is important.”

In October we were using less water but the restrictions were still in place because it still had not rained much. The restrictions were not rescinded until early December, after it was noted that the 135 centimeters of rain received in November was larger than the total from July through October combined.

The water discussion this year also touched on a number of other issues: the need for an additional permanent water supply, the need for more accurate measures of water use by residents, businesses and institutions, and whether the city should conserve water through metering (recommended in a 2012 consultant’s report).

Living on the shore of a large lake, and with a river running past their doorstep, Nelson citizens are not psychologically disposed to think in terms of water shortages. They live under an illusion that they have a lot of water. This year, with increased awareness and with the plan for the new emergency water treatment plant, the gap may have narrowed, just a little, between illusion and reality.

Nelson imposes water restrictions July 14

Water: does Nelson have enough? July 29

Nelson water shortage worse now than in summer, September 10

Nelson water shortage persists, October 8

Nelson to build emergency lakeside water treatment plant, November 25

Nelson rescinds Level 4 water restrictions, December 11