The Regional Adaptation to Climate Change project is trying to address a fundamental and long-term problem — a decline of water in Williams Lake’s aquifer and in other local community systems fed by the San Jose watershed that could be exacerbated by climate change.
The watershed’s future is the focus of the UBC Alex Fraser Research Forest project that is funded by Natural Resources Canada.
The project is attempting to forecast what the land surrounding the watershed will look like in the future; that information will be handed off to hydrologists who will forecast how the water system might respond.
Those two scenarios will be incorporated into a warming climate model — estimates for highs and lows for 2050 and 2080 have been prepared by the Pacific Institute of Climate Change from the University of Victoria.
For now, says Ken Day, manager of the Alex Fraser Research Forest, it’s important that the models accurately reflect what is happening on the ground as that will assist making future projections more accurately.
That was a focus of a field trip taken by local stakeholders last Wednesday.
The San Jose system in recent years has been under pressure. For example, the City of Williams Lake is concerned with its dwindling aquifer; the 108 Mile House community also has concerns about water levels and there have been reductions in the ability to withdraw irrigation water from the river system over the last few years, says Day.
“In the past few years the San Jose’s been dry in August and so there’s an imbalance between demands on the system that supports agriculture, industry and communities,” he says. Combine that with hotter, drier summers and winters with less snow and more rain as suggested in long-term forecasts and, “then you can see the pressure is going to increase.”
The intent of the project, says Day, is to paint a picture of what the future could look like.
“I think there’s a nucleus of folks who would be able to start talking with the local community about how to adapt to the future,” he says.
The San Jose watershed starts south of 108 Mile House. Little Mount Timothy flows into the San Jose. A series of small lakes at 100 Mile House, 111 Mile House, 108 Mile House, Lac La Hache, and Williams Lake feed the system. Borland, Knife and Jones creeks drain the plateau and also flow into the San Jose. The watershed is helped by a high plateau that feeds snow into the system.
While forest practices influence water retention so too does the designation of the San Jose valley as mule deer winter range that requires the cover of Douglas Fir trees.
The RACC project, hopes Day, will help communities make informed decisions regarding future water use.
“The message that folks in Williams Lake need to hear is the water in Williams Lake is not the same water that was in the lake last year. It comes from up the river, from the ranches and from the mountains and the lakes upstream and that water in the lake is actually our drinking water, even though we take it from underground wells. It’s the water out of the river and the lake that feeds the aquifer and we need to think about what are we going to do to make sure we have enough water to continue living here in the style we enjoy,” Day says.