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B.C.’s ongoing drought prompts the need for government to step up communications

Province must better communicate what’s happening

February 26, 2024  By Dave Mercer

The B.C. Ground Water Association held four regional meetings across British Columbia in the fall of 2023, and the most pressing issue at each meeting was drought and how it is affecting the province’s groundwater.  

British Columbia experienced unprecedented drought conditions in 2023, resulting in 80 per cent of the province reaching drought levels 4 or 5, the highest on a five-point scale, where ecosystem or socio-economic impacts are likely or almost certain to occur. 

From shallow domestic water wells going dry to provincial orders to reduce or stop agricultural pumping, these unprecedented drought conditions have made normally unseen groundwater conditions very visible to the public. Rather than dig into specific incidents that occurred this past year, I thought I’d look forward to what we can do to help the public prepare for what is likely to be more of the same in future years.


Managing water resources across a province the size of B.C. is a difficult task at the best of times, but drought conditions make it considerably harder. When water wells and salmon spawning creeks go dry, and aquifer levels are the lowest on record, mitigation measures need to be put in place. 

These measures are often met with resistance, and understandably so as people, farms and businesses are told to curtail and even stop their water usage. 

In some regions of B.C., the resistance was very vocal and negative. A YouTube video series claiming a “war on farmers” garnered well over 100,000 views. In other regions, the drought conditions and mitigation measures caught people off guard, and they looked to the media and social media for answers. 

The result was an abundance of information and misinformation from multiple sources with the common themes of either, “Why hasn’t the government done anything about this?” or in the cases where the government had done something, “The government doesn’t know what it’s doing”.

This leads to my first point about what can be done to help the public be better informed and prepared – the government needs to do a much better job of communicating. As I mentioned, managing water resources in times of drought is extremely difficult, and mitigation measures aren’t going to be popular.  

But much of the public simply isn’t aware of what is being done and why. The government posts lots of valuable information to its website and hosts some town hall meetings in key areas, among other efforts. Unfortunately, that’s not where people get their information today.  

The government needs to reach out to the public using the communication pathways the public uses, and that means social media. It won’t necessarily lead to everyone agreeing with how the government is managing our water, but at least more people will be aware and able to prepare.  

Organizations like the BCGWA, and publications like Ground Water Canada can help as well. I and other members of the BCGWA have recently been doing radio and television news interviews as water issues become more pressing in the province. 

The first mandate of the BCGWA is “to provide professional and technical leadership in the advancement of the groundwater industry and in the protection, promotion, and responsible development of groundwater resources.” We are well positioned to be a source of unbiased and knowledgeable information about our province’s precious groundwater resources. 

Other organizations and publications across Canada need to do the same. Most people don’t think about where their water comes from until their taps stop flowing.  

Water underground is impossible to see, but we can help make it visible, so people are better prepared for future water uncertainty.

Dave Mercer, PGeo, is a geologist and general manager of the BCGWA.

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