Looking for ways to make droughts more predictable for Okanagan water users - InfoNews

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Looking for ways to make droughts more predictable for Okanagan water users

Amin Zargar is hoping to predict droughts in the Okanagan by the end of this summer.
Image Credit: Submitted by UBCO
March 07, 2019 - 5:00 PM

KELOWNA - Predicting summer droughts in the Okanagan could become more accurate if a proposed Valley-wide interactive map gets funded.

Amin Zargar is a hydrologist who, in conjunction with UBCO, has applied for funding from the Okanagan Basin Water Board to create the map that will let people find out the chances of a drought happening or how long it might continue.

“Within the Okanagan basin, we can divide it into sub-watersheds and within those sub-watersheds, we can advise them that we are under, so far, two months of drought and that weather predictions add a 60 per cent chance, for example, that you are going to be in a severe drought for three months,” he explained to iNFOnews.ca. “In your sub-watershed, whatever corner you are in the Okanagan, you can better plan for that and allocate resources accordingly.”

His project, if funded, would input a tremendous amount of historical, climate change and prediction data into the map. While prediction tools are improving in accuracy all the time, Zargar strongly emphasized that they are still predictions.

“The models we use today, they come with uncertainty," he said. "We can say by which probability what’s going to happen in a window of the future, like a week from now, or a month or whatever.”

The Okanagan Basin Water Board does issue drought updates in the summer but those come when a drought is happening and specify the severity of the drought (dry, very dry, extremely dry).

Zargar’s program will give the probability of, for example, a dry spell continuing for a number of weeks.

It can also show bigger picture scenarios so water systems can be warned to either restrict water consumption sooner or build more storage capacity. Forest firefighters can also get data on probable weather patterns and adjust resources accordingly.

Drought prediction models are not normally refined to such a small scale as this is designed to do, nor do they take into account things like terrain, vegetation type and water use variations such as agriculture versus domestic.

The shortest time period he uses to define a drought is one month so, given the climate change patterns already experienced, it’s likely that there will be a drought every summer in the Okanagan. This tool is to help predict how long those droughts will last.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board will review the grant application at its April 2 board meeting. If he receives funding in April, Zargar is hoping to have the project up and running in three months so it could be of some predictive use towards the end of summer.

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