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Penner warns of water shortages; North American April snow cover lowest since 1966

Environment Minister Barry Penner warns that below-average snowpacks could mean serious water shortages in most of B.C. this summer. Meanwhile, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says all of North America had the lowest April snow cover since record-keeping began in 1966.

In a news release on his ministry's website, Penner announced a "2010 Drought Response Plan" to deal with low stream flows and likely shortages of water supplies. The release also detailed conditions across the province:

Conditions as of May 1 indicate a likelihood of well below normal freshet runoff during May and June, and low risk for freshet flooding in the major river basins (Fraser, Thompson, Skeena, Bulkley, Nass, Peace, Liard). Water levels on these large rivers began to rise in late April, and are expected to peak by late May or early June.

The well-below-normal snowpack conditions across much of the South Interior (Okanagan, Nicola, Kettle, Similkameen, West Kootenay, East Kootenay), along with the Skeena, Nass, and Peace River basins in the north, indicate potential for low stream flows and water-supply challenges to develop during the summer.

The low snowpack and smaller-than- normal snowmelt runoff are likely to be reflected in lower-than-normal lake and reservoir levels, lower-than-normal recharge of groundwater aquifers and lower-than-normal river levels during summer.

Snow conditions at the end of the winter comprise only part of the peak flow and water supply forecast picture. Weather during May and June has a large influence. To reduce the potential for summer low-flow or drought problems, rainfall during May and June will need to be at or above normal.

...As part of the engagement sessions that were held in various regions of the province in preparation for a drought season, the government is hosting a drought response workshop in Cranbrook on May 13.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US posted an item on its April 2010 climate overview:

According to the Rutgers Snow Lab, North American snow cover for April 2010 was the smallest on record (since 1966). Moreover, the anomaly was the largest of any of the 520 months on record.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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