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After three months without rain, amid the unrelenting drought hitting much of British Columbia, Mel Sylvestre says her fields are dry as dust right now.Nancy Macdonald/The Globe and Mail

After three months without rain, amid the unrelenting drought hitting much of British Columbia, Mel Sylvestre says her fields are dry as dust.

Farmers such as Ms. Sylvestre have been barred from using any water for irrigation since Aug. 31. That’s when the Sunshine Coast Regional District enacted its highest-level water restrictions, Stage 4, putting a stop to all outdoor water use – no sprinklers, no filling pools, no washing cars or boats. Sechelt, the regional hub, closed its hot tub and delayed the opening of its ice rink amid concerns there wouldn’t be enough water for homes, fire protection and hospitals.

On Monday, the district declared a state of local emergency that introduced further restrictions, banning all non-essential commercial uses of water such as swimming pools, breweries and cideries, cement factories and recreational cannabis production.

Physical evidence of the climate crisis is impossible to ignore here on the Sunshine Coast, where the grass has turned yellow and brittle, streams have run dry and kids are still going to school dressed in shorts and T-shirts. But in conversations with The Globe and Mail, it has become clear that people here are becoming increasingly concerned about another, less obvious consequence of the rapidly escalating emergency: the toll on mental well-being.

“I don’t believe in God that way, but it’s hard not to look at the sky and wonder: Are we being punished?” Ms. Sylvestre said.

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Remko Rosenboom, the district’s general manager of infrastructure services, said the coast’s primary water source, Chapman Lake, has almost dried up. The district is pulling water from another alpine lake, but levels there are also at record lows.

There is no rain expected on the Sunshine Coast until at least this weekend, according to Environment Canada, and temperatures could hit 20 C most days. David Campbell, the head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre, said the dry weather could persist for several more weeks.

Mr. Rosenboom – who is also the acting director of the district’s Emergency Operation Centre, which opened Sept. 27 – said there is enough water to last to the end of this month.

“The priority is ensuring enough water for hospitals, long-term care facilities, firefighting,” he said.

The Sunshine Coast may be one of the hardest-hit regions, but most of B.C. is living through the drought, including the Lower Mainland, all of Vancouver Island and northeastern part of the province. More than 150 daytime temperature records were broken across B.C. in September. Another 33 were set in the first week of October.

Victoria, Comox and Abbotsford all had their warmest Septembers on record, for example. Victoria also experienced its driest month on record, with just two millimetres of rain falling on the B.C. capital last month.

The impacts of the drought are wide and varied. Bone-dry conditions have extended the wildfire season. In all, 199 wildfires are still burning across B.C., with nine sparked since Wednesday. Large numbers of trees in Vancouver’s Stanley Park are dead or dying.

Earlier this month, more than 65,000 dead chum salmon were found in Neekas Creek, which runs through Heiltsuk territory on the Central Coast. Weeks of drought dried out waterways and prevented the fish from spawning, said William Housty, the Heiltsuk Nation’s conservation manager. “Oxygen levels dropped, the water temperature rose, and the result was massive die-off.”

Allison Dennert, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University who’s been monitoring salmon in Heiltsuk territory for 15 years, said she has never heard of a pre-spawn die-off on that scale.

Approaching the Neekas, she and other researchers had to cover their faces. “Even then, the smell was burning our noses and eyes.”

The true impact won’t be known for two years, when the chum return, Ms. Dennert said. “But the result is likely catastrophic. It makes me deeply concerned for the survival of salmon coastwide.”

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Such mass die-offs are going to become more frequent, said Scott Hinch, a professor of fisheries conservation at the University of British Columbia. “As climate change continues to wreak havoc, it is going to push some populations over the edge.”

Salmon don’t have the option of returning to the ocean or waiting for rain, he explained. “Once they start their homeward migration, it’s a one-way ticket. They can’t turn around. Their biological clocks are ticking. They are going to die, potentially unspawned, if they can’t get to their spawning streams.”

The Sunshine Coast, a collection of eclectic seaside villages along B.C.’s southern mainland, is a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay. As the name suggests, it has more hours of sunshine than anywhere else on the B.C. coast and has become a haven both for retirees and, more recently, young families seeking more affordable homes and a slower pace of life.

The district has imposed Stage 4 water restrictions in five of the past eight years. While commercial farmers have certainly felt the impact, until now businesses such as breweries and cideries have never faced the potential of being forced to halt operations.

The cidery Patrick Connelly co-owns was ordered to stop production last week.Nancy Macdonald/The Globe and Mail

When The Globe spoke with Patrick Connelly last week, days before the cidery he co-owns was ordered to stop production, he said he was “getting prepped for some of those difficult, challenging conversations and the horrible realities that will face us if the taps go dry.”

Anything lasting more than a week “starts to delve into catastrophic territory for a small business like ours,” said Brian Smith, CEO of the Persephone Brewing Company, which also runs a small commercial farm on the property. “We run a very fine line between cash flow and break-even.”

But while Mr. Smith can stomach a bad fiscal year or two, it’s climate anxiety that is keeping him up at night. He said living through drought after drought is hitting his family hard, noting that their farm has just two beehives this year, down from 10 last year.

“My teenage boys say to me: ‘Why would we even think about having kids?’ When I was that age, I was learning about drinking, finding my identity, trying to get laid. I wasn’t wrestling with existential risk.”

Ms. Sylvestre has been farming for 20 years and runs Grounded Acres, one of the Sunshine Coast’s largest commercial farms. She can’t imagine doing anything else with her life. But the rapid onset of climate change is forcing her to consider other options. “I’ve never had climate anxiety until now. But we’re barely scraping by.

“My biggest concern – and I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen – is that when the rain finally does come, it will bring floods. It takes years to build the organic matter and richness we need in our soil. Everything we’ve built will just wash away.”