The most recent heat wave, and the devastating wildfires that have followed, has brought climate change to the front of our minds recently. This article is the first in our Water Based Recreation Deep Dive Series, and while it may feel unrelated, the water-based activities we enjoy will all be affected by climate change.
According to the Columbia Basin Climate Source (basinclimatesource.ca) if the world continues a “business as usual” path (ie. not reducing or increasing global emissions), by the 2050s we could see on average 8.5 heat waves annually, up from the two annually in the 1960s. If we act now to drastically reduce global emissions (a “stabilization scenario”), the predicted heat waves will be about half (4.95 annually) of the current projection. Heat waves can be extremely damaging to ecosystems and agriculture, can put intense strain on infrastructure, drastically increase wildfire risk, and be brutal killers (the recent heat wave is suspected to have led to 579 deaths in BC alone). But heat waves are just one example of severe weather that will increase over time. We will also see hotter and drier summers, warmer and wetter winters, and more extreme weather events (like the hailstorm and floods that directly followed the heat wave).
So, what does all this mean for you and recreation on Lake Windermere? Whatever your preferred activity, it will not be left unaffected. Swimmers may be met with unsafe and toxic waters due to increased opportunity for harmful algal blooms and spikes in bacteria populations. Heavy rain and flash flooding events may overload wastewater systems, increasing the risk of pollutants to enter the lake, depleting the picturesque experience many paddlers seek. Fishing enthusiasts will see an ever-increasing decline in native fish species, such as Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon, due to warmer water temperatures. Motor boaters could see the introduction of invasive species, like Eurasian Milfoil or Zebra Mussels, that will wreak havoc on their equipment. Birdwatchers may see the effects of droughts on the lake’s ability to provide for the diversity of birds that access the lake as part of the Pacific Fly Way, not to mention the threat to the Columbia Wetlands, where many of Lake Windermere’s birds make their nests. Ice skaters and cross-country skiers who use the Whiteway will see shorter and wetter seasons, making Lake Windermere a less viable option in the valley.
So, what can we do about it? Like the consequences, there isn’t just one solution: this problem needs to be tackled by everyone, from the individual to government to industry. Some practical actions our community could take include:
- Anticipate the changes and discuss the solutions now, including a plan to implement.
- Continue and improve long term sampling and analysis programs, enabling decision makers to identify changes early and guide responses.
- Reduce nutrient loading by protecting healthy wetlands and restoring degraded wetlands.
- Incorporate wetland protection and enhancement into climate-ready responses.
- Where possible, minimize groundwater pumping for irrigation to reduce the strain on aquatic ecosystems.
- Consider how all projects will be affected by and have an impact on climate change based on our local modelling.
- Access natural and ecological solutions to develop lake management strategies that put value on the natural ecosystem function.
- Support work that prevents the spread of invasive species in and out of our region.