In as little as three months Shuswap Lake has gone from one record low to another.
A graph and data maintained by the City of Salmon Arm on current and historic measured levels of Shuswap Lake was making the rounds on social media with residents remarking about how low the lake is.
“The lake is lower now than it has been in all the years measurements have been made,” commented Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS) president Jim Cooperman in a post with an image of the graph from July 29 being shared on Facebook.
As of July 29, the lake was at 345.82 metres. This was the lowest measurement on that date according to recorded historical lake levels dating back to 1996, with data also collected in 1972. This year began with the lake at record low levels up until about the end of April.
The low lake level prompted the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) to close boat launches in Eagle Bay and Celista to powered boats.
“It’s shaping up to potentially be the year with the lowest water level even seen on Shuswap Lake,” said the CSRD in a July 25 post. “That means water levels at boat launches are very low.
“While launching your boat at any of the CSRD boat launches around the lake, please be cautious as the lake level drops and exposes potential hazards. Ensure you lift your props as high as possible before pulling your boat out of the lake.”
City of Salmon Arm engineering and public works director Rob Niewenhuizen said the last time the lake reached a similar low was in 2015. On July 29, 2015, the lake was at 345.96 metres.
The low lake level doesn’t have a direct impact on municipal infrastructure, said Niewenhuizen, noting the intake for the city’s water supply is quite deep in the lake. What was a concern for Niewenhuizen and the city was the amount of water being pumped from the lake to fill Salmon Arm’s 13 reservoirs.
“To fill those our pumps are running extended periods of time; so that’s kind of a big flag,” said Niewenhuizen. This demand was part of the reason for the city’s recent move to Stage 3 water restrictions, which appeared to be having an effect as water usage had decreased from about 22 to 23 million litres a day to between 17 and 18 million litres a day.
Reflecting back on the lake level, Niewenhuizen explained efforts to conserve water aren’t just for the benefit of municipal infrastructure.
“In the big picture… if we can conserve, that helps everybody, because our watershed supplies water to Kamloops all the down to the Fraser, all the way down to Vancouver…,” said Niewenhuizen.
“Ultimately, the lake level is concerning but it’s not really impacting on our ability to produce water. But the drought conditions – everything around the Interior, well, actually the whole province is drought level 4 or 5 right now, so that’s another concern that we have.”
Cooperman said what we’re now seeing, with the low lake level and drought conditions, is the result of weather extremes.
“Normal weather is increasingly becoming a thing of the past and, as a result, our lake level is now far lower than it should be, and the impacts continue to increase exponentially along with the temperatures,” said Cooperman, adding that while the lake is lower than usual, a different but connected story flows from the Adams River.
“It’s low but it’s not that low,” said Cooperman. “It’s bolstered by the glacier melt and that’s probably the same in some of the other rivers as well.”
A Thompson Rivers University research team is studying glaciers in the headwaters of the Adams River to understand the influence glacial melt is having on the overall hydrology of the river system. Cooperman and SEAS have been working with Forsite Consultants on a separate, ongoing study of local glacier melt.
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