08/04/2012 01:55 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Water conservation urged as drought hits B.C. Peace region

Parts of northeastern B.C. are heading into drought conditions, and both residents and businesses are being advised to conserve water.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations urged residents in Dawson Creek and throughout the Peace Region to reduce water use by limiting outdoor watering and reducing in-home water use.

Farmers were asked to optimize their irrigation schedules, and double-check their water systems for leaks.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission also announced it is suspending all short-term water use permits from water bodies that have below-normal levels. Water is used in the fracking process to extract natural gas.

The commission said it will still permit water withdrawals from the Williston and Dinosaur lakes, and five rivers — the Peace, Halfway, Pine, Sikanni and Muskwa — for the time being.

It also promised to help companies identify alternative water sources.

The B.C. government said the Peace River region's water supply is short due to a below-average snowpack and warm, dry weather since the spring. It also said river levels are dropping faster than usual.

"Some waterways are experiencing low flow rates that would only be expected once in 20 years," the Ministry of Forests said in a statement Thursday.

The ministry said low stream and lake levels could affect fish and other aquatic resources, and could result in water shortages all around.

With no rain in the forecast next week for the region, river levels are expected to drop further.

In the event of continued dry conditions, the government said it may need to implement strict regulations to manage the region's water use.