Drought information

Drought is a recurrent feature of climate involving a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time, resulting in a water shortage.

Drought may be caused by combinations of insufficient snow accumulation, hot and dry weather, or a delay in rainfall.

The Provincial Technical Drought Working Group provides drought level updates for each major watershed in the province as conditions warrant.

On this page:

Effects of drought

Drought conditions can affect communities and individuals in many different ways. Drought can lead to reduced water availability for household and business use. Lower streamflows may cause warmer river temperatures, affecting fish and other aquatic life. Low streamflows can also have an impact on groundwater levels.

Drought can reduce crop growth and quality, leading to smaller harvests. Hotter temperatures that often occur alongside drought may lead to early crop maturity or ripening. Less water may be available for irrigation and for animal care, and livestock production suffers and pests increase.

The B.C. Government provides advice and drought management tools to farmers and ranchers who may be affected by drought and/or loss of water.

Water management during drought

The B.C. Government has collaborated with Agri-Food Canada to complete the British Columbia Drought Response Plan. The plan focuses on the actions taken before, during and immediately after a drought to reduce the impacts of drought.

The plan identifies a variety of actions and accountabilities, including:

  • Responsibilities of provincial and local agencies
  • Recommended actions to take before the onset of drought, during the drought, and after drought conditions have subsided
  • Drought response criteria to help decide when to elevate drought responses to higher levels

Read the 2023 B.C. Drought and Water Scarcity Response Plan (PDF, 1.12 MB)

Water rights during water scarcity, including drought

Water users, whether licensed or not, are required to use water as efficiently as practicable. When voluntary conservation measures are not sufficient to meet all water rights, or to protect critical environmental flows or the survival of a fish population, the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) provides authority for statutory officials, under specified conditions, to regulate water diversion, use (and storage) by users of both stream water and groundwater. When this regulatory action is required, it can now involve groundwater users even if they do not have an authorization. 

Water conservation

Water conservation is everyone's responsibility, especially during drought. You can save money by conserving water, and help to protect our natural resources.

Temporary Protection Orders

The WSA enables three Temporary Protection Order (TPO) regulatory tools, s.86, s.87 and s.88 that decision makers can use to shut off or curtail water users when there is water scarcity:

  • s. 86 Declaration of Significant Water Shortage
  • s. 87 Critical Environmental Flow Protection Orders
  • s. 88 Fish Population Protection Orders

Current TPOs:

TPOs issued in 2023:

Learn more about Water Sustainability Act Temporary Protection Orders

Drought Level Classification

In B.C. we use a six-level drought classification to explain the severity and appropriate level of response to drought conditions. The B.C. government’s ability to regulate water during drought is not dependent on an area’s drought level. Authorities can use the Water Sustainability Act, independent of an area’s drought level, to deal with conflicts and concerns in a single water source or with significant water shortages in a specific area.

Drought Level Classification
Level Impacts General Response Measures
0 There is sufficient water to meet socio-economic and ecosystem needs Preparedness
1 Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are rare Conservation
2 Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are unlikely Conservation
Local water restrictions where appropriate
3 Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are possible Conservation
Local water restrictions likely
4 Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are likely Conservation and local water restrictions
Regulatory action possible
5 Adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are almost certain Conservation and local water restrictions
Regulatory action likely
Possible emergency response