Dry fall a mild concern, but precipitation expected
At this time last year, Whistlers creeks and lakes were swollen with runoff, it was raining, and there were patches of snow in the valley.
After one of the driest Octobers on record, the water levels in our lakes are noticeably lower, and all but the largest glacier-fed creeks have dried up. And although its in the forecast, the mountains are almost bare of snow.
Even so, things are still functioning as normal.
According to Chris Wike, the Utilities Supervisor for the municipal public works department, there is still plenty of drinking water.
"We are experiencing quite low surface water levels, and are only using one of three sources," he said. "But we still have enough, and if needed to we could dip into our well supplies."
Of the two surface water sources that were closed, only one was shut down due to low water the levels. The other is always closed during the summer months and is available although "we havent fired it up yet," said Wike.
Whistler still draws most of its drinking water from Rainbow Lake via 21 Mile Creek.
"Its lower than we normally see it, but there is still water," he said.
Whistler-Blackcombs reservoirs have ample supplies, and the drought has not affected their snow-making capacity.
"I can tell you this, the creeks are far lower than the season averages," said Arthur DeJong, the mountain planning and environmental resource manager for Whistler-Blackcomb.
"Our main use this time of year is snowmaking but we use so little of the overall flow, (the drought) hasnt hampered the system at all. Even at low flow, were only using one-tenth of the flow, so were fine," he added.
"We would certainly be concerned if it was the same situation at the end of November."
The 120 snow guns on the mountains have been at work since Oct. 23.
Another concern is the stress that the drought is having on the mountain ecosystems. According to DeJong, two species of hemlock and the balsam trees need rain.
"Theyre not designed to go without rain for any length of time, and stressed trees are more susceptible to disease and blowdown."
November is traditionally the wettest month for Whistler, and the mountains are expecting a mix of rain and snow within the next few weeks.
Statistically, around 120 centimetres of snow fall every November over a dozen days. Last year, we had 151 cm.
In addition, the national weather centre is predicting El Nino conditions this year. The last time that happened, in the winter of 1998-99, October and November were dryer than usual, followed by a record snowfall.