Drought and health

Drought impacts health in numerous ways, including:

  • Less water available to supply drinking water systems or fight fires.
  • Concentration of contaminants in drinking water, making it harder to treat.
  • Soil becoming more compact, threatening local food security.
  • Insufficient water for irrigation, threatening local food security.
  • Greater risk of groundwater overuse, increasing the potential that seawater could enter aquifers. 
  • Warmer water temperatures, leading to loss of valued species (e.g., salmon) and increases in water-borne and other diseases.
  • Shallower recreational waters, increasing the risk of brain and spinal cord injuries.
  • Drying of forests, leading to increased wildfire risk.
  • More dust, smoke and plant allergens in the air, leading to respiratory health issues.
  • The experience of drought may also negatively impact mental health.

Drought preparedness for the public

There are a number of steps you can take to prepare for periods of drought, both to conserve water and protect your health.

  • Visit the Province’s drought information, resources and response page. You can also find detailed information on local drought status and duration on the BC Drought Information Portal.
  • Prepare for health risks associated with heat and wildfires
  • Connect with your local government or First Nation to understand water use restrictions, and access local water conservation rebates and incentives.
  • If you have your own private water supply, it is recommended that you follow your local community water restrictions. 
  • Check for recreational water quality testing results before swimming, and keep an eye out for hazards in shallower water.
  • Private well owners should consider installing equipment to monitor water levels, so water use can be adjusted before the well runs dry. Aquifer water levels can also be tracked in nearby monitoring wells on the BC Groundwater Level Map.
  • Care for your trees. Trees on or near your property (even if not your own) provide cooling and shade. Consider using recycled water to water trees near your home or business, and report trees in distress to your local government or First Nation.

Most importantly, practice water conservation all year round.

Tips for your home
  • Take shorter showers; turn the tap off while lathering and save your “warm-up” water for toilet flushing or outdoor use.
  • Turn off the tap while washing dishes, brushing teeth or shaving.
  • Run dishwashers and laundry machines only when full. Launder less by wearing clothes more than once and choosing shorter wash cycles. Upgrade to a high-efficiency washer.
  • Keep a jug of water in the fridge so you don’t have to run the tap to get it cold.
  • Check your home for leaks, indoors and outdoors.
  • Install low-flow faucets and toilets; install an aerator on faucets to maintain pressure.
  • Opt for a brown lawn or try “xeriscaping” – gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for watering. Collect and reuse indoor water for outdoor plants. Mulch plants to retain water. Water in the evening or early morning, if necessary. Upgrade your irrigation to a more water-efficient design, such as drip irrigation.
  • Sweep outdoor spaces rather than using the hose.
  • Consider investing in rain barrels or rainwater cisterns to store rain for non-potable use in the summer.
  • Limit the washing of cars, boats, RVs and other vehicles.
Tips for your workplace
  • Follow water restrictions and water-use rules from your local or regional government or water utility provider.
  • Consider a water use audit for the facility to understand how to maximize efficiency.
  • Update water infrastructure to allow you to monitor water usage (e.g., install a water meter).
  • Recycle water used in industrial operations when safe to do so.
  • Use water-efficient methods and equipment.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks.
  • Plan your landscaping to require minimal water – plant native vegetation or try “xeriscaping,” which is gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for watering.
  • Consider installing low-flow toilets and other more efficient plumbing fixtures.
  • Post signage with reminders and tips for water conservation.

Drought preparedness for drinking water operators

Island Health has collected data on drought impacts since 2015 and is using this information to support drinking water systems operators in their response to drought. The reduction or loss of water is a public health and safety concern, as minimum amounts of water are needed daily for domestic use (e.g., consumption, food preparation, sanitation), firefighting demands and ongoing business continuity. It is prudent that all water suppliers take water conservation measures, and plan for the reduction or loss of water supply. 

Year-round water conservation measures will support a change in mindset for users and increase the water supply system’s resiliency. There are many ways to promote water conservation: 

To safeguard Island Health communities’ access to water, all water suppliers are now required include drought as a part of their Emergency Response and Contingency Plan (ERCP).

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