The grass in parts of Kelowna, such as this area along Old Vernon Road, has dried out under Level 4 drought conditions this summer.

In the midst of a drought, the main message from the provincial government is the need to conserve water.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board held a workshop on Thursday afternoon to review the region’s current Level 4 drought rating — the highest there is.

“Water is one of our most valuable resources, and we all need to work together to conserve it,” said Steve Thomson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

“With drought at its worst level in the Southern Interior since the province created the drought response plan in 2010, it’s more important than ever for people to curtail their water use now, so more will be available later in summer and fall.”

A Level 4 classification means the area is extremely dry and further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and affect people, industry such as agriculture, wildlife and fish stocks.

It also means regional water managers may take additional regulatory actions if they are deemed necessary, such as the temporary suspension of water licences.

“We are definitely seeing ecosystem impacts and socio-economic impacts,” said Valerie Cameron, water stewardship manager for forests, lands and natural resource operations. “Environment Canada’s forecasts are for warmer conditions than normal through the fall, at least into November and possibly stretching into next year.”

Cameron added it is crucial to exercise maximum water conservation efforts.

“We’re preparing for drought in the long haul,” she said.

Ray Crampton, regional executive director of resource management for the Okanagan-Shuswap, said the Okanagan is not likely to run out of water completely, but it will come close in rivers such as the West Kettle and Similkameen.

“People simply have to adjust their thinking that the Okanagan’s water is abundant, when it’s really not,” he said.

Kelowna and West Kelowna recently implemented outdoor watering restrictions in response to the region’s Level 4 drought.

For more information about conserving water, go online to makewaterwork.ca.

For specific watering restrictions in Kelowna, go online to www.kelowna.ca. For restrictions in West Kelowna, visit www.districtofwestkelowna.ca.

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