BC’s summers are becoming hotter and drier due to increasing average temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. These conditions increase the water needed for healthy crops and livestock.
At the same time, hotter and drier periods result in reduced water supply. This means that farmers and ranchers are likely to need more water during periods of water scarcity. BC agriculture’s irrigation water demand is projected to increase significantly by the 2050s.
Climate and other factors
In many areas of BC, average summer precipitation is decreasing. But extreme precipitation events — when large quantities of precipitation fall in a short period of time — are happening more often, resulting in increased runoff. Often, this water isn’t absorbed into the soil or stored in reservoirs for future use.
Climate changes in BC that are increasing drier conditions and drought include:
- Rising average annual temperatures, across all seasons
- Warmer and drier summers, with a greater likelihood of extremely hot days
- Decreasing average annual snowfall in winter and spring
- Earlier and more rapid melt of snowpack, resulting in earlier peak streamflows, and reduced streamflows and water availability during summer and early autumn
- Receding glaciers that are reducing water in glacier-fed systems
Other factors that increase drier conditions and drought risk in the province include:
- Reduced capacity of soils and/or vegetation to store water due to loss of forest cover from impacts such as forest die-off, wildfire and logging
- Land management practices and development practices that increase or speed runoff, particularly in upland areas
Impacts to agriculture
Stressed crops and livestock
Water stress in crops reduces plant health and yield. Dry conditions also make crops more vulnerable to other threats, like pests and diseases. Seasonal drought results in annual crop losses, with potential for long-term effects to perennial crop health.
Dryland production — or crop production without irrigation — is most vulnerable to drier conditions and drought. However, if there is not enough water for irrigation, crop damage and losses will happen across all production types.
Livestock health is also affected by drier conditions, particularly if temperatures are also high. In hot and dry weather, livestock will eat less, and reproduction rates drop.
Grazing livestock can also be affected if pasture and rangeland productivity decreases. Forage quantity and quality will be reduced, as will water quality and availability.
Increased management complexity and cost
As seasonal dry and drought conditions become more common, producers are faced with the growing cost and complexity of managing for these conditions. Making changes to agricultural systems and businesses involves time, effort and expense.
Additional water infrastructure — such as storage and improved or new irrigation equipment — can be expensive. Acquiring new water licences may not be possible in areas where water is fully allocated or may involve a lot of time and financial investment for producers seeking a licence.
Testing and applying new approaches for managing with less water also requires experimentation and investment.
Resources and tools
Highlighted below is a selection of CCAP resources and tools to support adaptation to drier conditions and drought.