Fraser Basin Council


5.2 Drought Management Plans

The Province of BC defines drought as a period of sustained low precipitation and high evaporation, resulting in low stream flows and groundwater levels, and water shortages. Significant drought is characterized by particularly low stream flows.

“In British Columbia, drought may be caused by combinations of insufficient snow accumulation, hot and dry weather or a delay in rainfall. Hydrological drought is associated with the effect of low precipitation on water levels in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and aquifers. Hydrological drought affects uses which depend on ground and surface water levels and stream flows.”  Living Water Smart3

BC communities have experienced drought in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Drought is a projected impact of climate change in BC so communities might experience more frequent or severe drought conditions than in the past. Drought circumstances can have profound impacts on the socio-economic and environmental health of communities including agriculture and food. Aquatic ecosystems and fisheries are also affected by drought conditions. When water availability is very low, there can also be concerns about water quality, because pollution levels are relatively concentrated, and more bacteria can survive in warmer water. Lower water availability can also lead to higher costs of water, and restrictions on water use.4 Water use restrictions can in turn impact business operations, employment, personal use and tourism. There is a strong rationale for undertaking a broad assessment and analysis of overall water allocation in a community or region to help inform the development and implementation of a Drought Management Plan.

Characteristics, Benefits and Applications

Drought management plans are an important means of minimizing the impacts of water shortages and drought in a region. Similar to water conservation plans, they focus on managing demand, reducing consumption and improving efficiency of water use. Like conservation plans, effective drought management plans need to consider all water uses (including household, industrial, commercial, institutional and agricultural). These plans place an emphasis on reducing water demand but are developed to address the extreme circumstances associated with drought.

Drought management plans are typically developed at the community or regional scale. It is important to consider all uses of a particular water supply such as a watershed or aquifer, and the interactions between water supplies. A watershed-based approach is particularly relevant because a drought event typically affects a large area and all types of water supplies.

A key characteristic of drought management plans is that they identify drought stages and trigger appropriate response actions. The Province of BC uses a four level drought classification (normal, dry, very dry and extremely dry) to describe the severity of drought conditions and appropriate levels of response. Drought management plans develop specific responses to these drought stages and triggers (e.g., limiting lawn watering if a reservoir drops to a specified level).

Drought management plans should be developed before conditions require their use. Because of the potentially severe socio-economic and environmental impacts of droughts, emotions can run very high during these events. Therefore, planning well in advance of a drought will allow more time for thoughtful, rational and comprehensive planning than when a community is already experiencing a drought situation. A proactive approach also enables farmers, ranchers, other businesses, institutions and households to assess the plans in advance of a drought and offer feedback. These groups of stakeholders can also take measures to prepare for the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing drought management and water conservation measures.

Key Elements and Steps

The Dealing With Drought Handbook – published by the BC Ministry of Environment in 2004 and available online – provides a common template for developing Drought Management Plans. The following are some of the key elements and steps in preparing such a plan:

  • establish a local drought management team;
  • document the membership and operating procedures of the local drought management team.
  • document the water system profile;
  • evaluate the potential impacts of drought on the region’s economy;
  • evaluate the potential impacts of drought on the social and environmental well-being of the region;
  • identify data requirements, frequency of data collection and reporting protocols on local water supplies and climate;
  • develop clear definitions of local drought stages and corresponding local responses; and,
  • prepare communications plans.5

The province of BC has established a Drought Management Framework – refer to Drought Information, for information on:

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About Rethinking our Water Ways

This website is a guide to help BC communities learn more about planning for local watersheds and water resources, navigate current planning processes, consider relevant issues and challenges — including regional climate change impacts —  and build capacity to develop and implement plans.


The Rethinking our Water Ways guide and website are possible thanks to funding support from the BC Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Canada's Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program. The guide and website were launched and distributed through a series of regional workshops throughout BC, with funding contributions from the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program, Environment Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. Learn more about our funders and advisors.

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Share your suggestions for this website, and ideas for future water workshops, with:

Steve Litke
Senior Program Manager
T: 604 488-5358

About the Fraser Basin Council

Rethinking our Water Ways is an initiative of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a charitable non-profit society that advances sustainability in the Fraser River Basin, across BC, and beyond. Established in 1997, FBC brings people together from multiple sectors to learn about sustainability and find collaborative solutions to current issues. Learn more about FBC by visiting