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Unprecedented lack of rain and heat taking toll on Okanagan trees

As dry and hot conditions continue throughout the Okanagan, concerns are growing over trees and vegetation.

“We are seeing drought stress in all of our trees,” said Tara Bergeson, an urban forester with the City of Kelowna.

“We see it both in the city, in our street trees and park trees. Where we’re seeing a really, really difficult time is in our natural areas, trees that are struggling to gain enough water.”

The provincial government said on Friday that drought conditions are now affecting most of southern British Columbia and the Central Interior due to very low rainfall, exacerbated by the recent and heat wave.

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“We’re coming off one of the hottest periods ever recorded in Okanagan history,” said Peter Quinlan, Global Okanagan’s meteorologist.

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“We saw that 40-degree heat to round off June. It’s also been one of the driest summers we have ever recorded.”

The Okanagan is now under Drought Level 3, with Level 5 being the most severe.

“We only have 0.8 per cent of our normal precipitation so far this July, with temperatures 6 to 7 degrees above average,” said Quinland.

“That is unprecedented for the month.”

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In Kelowna, many trees are turning brown and going into early dormancy.

“That’s something that we would see in the fall as trees are shutting down for the winter. We’re seeing it early right now,” Bergeson said.

“So trees are trying to protect themselves against the extreme drought.”

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Bergeson said while that won’t typically kill a tree, this could become a problem if heat waves become an annual occurrence.

“If we saw this year after year, we would be in tough shape,” she said.

The city has increased its truck watering measures to provide adequate irrigation while staying mindful of being water-wise,

“Over the next little while, that’s important to keep in mind as we try and prioritize, keeping our higher asset trees and shrubs irrigated, but then letting some of our turf in different areas go dormant for the summer,” Bergeson said.

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The city said it will focus its irrigation efforts on high-priority locations such as sports fields and busy locations, like parks along the waterfront.

Residents will notice grass in other parks go brown in the coming weeks.

While the city throws in extra resources into irrigating high-priority trees, it’s also asking residents to also lend a helping hand.

“If you are seeing a tree that is particularly welting or drought-stressed, if you can throw an extra bucket of water onto the boulevard street trees outside of your property, it would be much appreciated,” Bergeson said.

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Looking ahead, there are no signs of significant rainfall for at least the next two weeks.

“This is not a good set-up, especially as we move into August, which is notoriously a drier month,” Quinlan said.

“This is going to be terrible for the forest fire situation and just the entire drought situation that the region is dealing with.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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