By Stephanie Ip, The Province

More water restrictions could be on the way after the provincial government raised the drought rating this week for B.C.’s south coast and Lower Fraser areas to a level 4, the highest possible rating.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations made the announcement Wednesday, attributing the new rating to continued dry conditions and ongoing low stream flows.

“Further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and affect people, industry such as agriculture, wildlife, and fish stocks,” said the ministry’s notice. “All water users are urged to maximize their water conservation efforts.”

Following a level 4 drought advisory, regional water managers may announce additional restrictions on water usage if deemed necessary, in order to protect reservoirs.

On July 3, Metro Vancouver put into effect stage 2 watering restrictions, which allowed residents to water their lawns for only five hours a week in the early morning on an assigned day.

With the level 4 rating, all water users are “encouraged to observe local water conservation bylaws to prolong water supplies and to maintain flows for fish and ecosystems.”

With water shortages come concerns about fish stocks.

“Low water levels can impede the passage of salmon to spawning grounds, increase susceptibility to disease, or cause stranding or death due to low oxygen and high water temperatures,” the ministry warned.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said conditions are likely to become even drier before the weekend.

Thomson said that if the situation worsens the government may temporarily suspend water usage and water licences in affected watersheds, though so far no regulations have been introduced.

Low flow and water temperatures peaking at 25 C have led the government to impose fishing restrictions on nearly 100 rivers, mostly on southern Vancouver Island, in the Kootenays and the Okanagan.

The number of wildfires has dipped to 175, but a campfire ban remains in place across B.C., with the exception of Haida Gwaii and the fog zone.

B.C. last raised the south coast’s drought rating to level 3 on June 30, while Vancouver Island has been at level 4 since July 3.

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