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BC Hydro is warning of a winter drought on Vancouver Island, caused by nearly two months of unusually dry and cold weather.

A spokesman with the Crown utility says the winter started wet and mild but frigid conditions at the end of January “locked up” available moisture in snow and ice.

Stephen Watson says that has created drought-like conditions in watersheds serving the Sooke, Port Alberni, Comox Valley and Campbell River regions.

He says the Puntledge River system in the Comox Valley is already in conservation mode in order to provide enough water for downstream fish habitats and the other three watersheds aren’t faring much better.

Hydrologists say the water supply forecast for this time of year has reached a record-breaking 50-year low.

Watson says Vancouver Island has had winter droughts before and needs several significant rain storms in the coming weeks in order to bring water levels back up before the snow pack melts.

“I think everyone’s used to that snow being on the ground and assuming that the conditions are good, but the water supply forecasts that we have for a lot of our systems on the Island are only showing 75 per cent of normal for water inflow looking (toward) the summer,” Watson says.

He predicts if conditions remain dry, recreational use of area reservoirs and rivers, as well as the domestic water supply, could be affected.

The utility is looking ahead and preparing in case the weather stays dry through the next few months, Watson says.

“We will manage through it, we’ll work with local governments, whether it’s, for example, the Comox Valley Regional District in the Comox Valley, the DFO, and others. We will continue to inform and update and work together to manage through conditions like these.”

Hydro will conserve as much water as possible going into the spring and summer, and in case of a very dry summer, Watson says the utility will have water in reserve to pump into salmon spawning streams in the fall.

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