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Drought threatens chinook salmon stock

August 18, 2016 11:54 A.M.
Coldwater River in Merritt (TNRD Film Commission)

In a move reminiscent of last summer’s widespread drought conditions, the provincial government urges conservation by those drawing from the Coldwater River.

Low flows on the Coldwater are threatening chinook salmon, which are currently in the river system, said the Ministery of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Despite normal flows for many streams and Level 1 drought conditions elsewhere within the Nicola region, low flows in the system are nearing Level 4, or extremely dry, drought conditions.

The province is asking surface water and groundwater users within the Coldwater system and Merritt municipal boundaries to voluntarily reduce consumption by 30 percent in accordance with the provincial B.C. Drought Response Plan.

With continued hot, dry weather in the forecast, river flows are expected to continue to drop. These low flows not only threaten spawning salmon, but all fish populations in the Coldwater system.

The headwaters of the Coldwater River are in the Coast Mountains, where conditions have been much drier than in the southern Interior region this summer.

Ministry staff are closely monitoring river levels and may upgrade drought levels and consider regulation of water usage if the weather continues to have a negative effect on stream flows and water supply. Residential, agricultural and industrial users within municipalities and regional districts are encouraged to observe local water conservation bylaws.

River system users are also encouraged to ensure that water intakes are screened to prevent fish from being pulled into water systems as flows drop. Low flows can impede the passage of salmon to spawning grounds, increase susceptibility to disease, cause stranding or death due to low oxygen and high water temperatures.

Similar to 2015, partial or complete closures of the Coldwater River for recreational fisheries may need to occur this summer. Ministry staff will continue to monitor conditions, work closely with local governments, First Nations communities and key stakeholders, and provide public updates as necessary.

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