Located as we are on the wet West Coast, the Capital Regional District’s water-supply area for Greater Victoria receives a reasonable amount of rainfall, about 1,700 millimetres annually. But it’s a resource we cannot afford to take for granted.
However, the majority of our precipitation occurs from November to April. Our summers — and in recent years, the spring months too — are warm and exceptionally dry, which results in a significant increase in water consumption, primarily due to outdoor uses. Water use in the region is twice as high in the summer, when we rely exclusively on the drawdown of water stored in the Sooke and Goldstream reservoirs from the winter rains.
Like other jurisdictions in North America, we in the CRD have improved our water efficiency considerably over the past decade. However, these reductions in water demand have more or less been offset by water demand related to population growth in recent years, and there are already signs that per capita demand might level off in the near future, as water-efficient appliances and fixtures approach a saturation point. Over the next 20 years, our region’s population is projected to increase by tens of thousands of people, and we need to start thinking now about how we will accommodate this additional demand for our most precious resource.
We should strive to meet our growing demand for water by being more efficient with current resources and the investments already made by taxpayers. Enhancing our individual water-conservation efforts or simply being more cognizant of water wastage could help delay or even eliminate expensive investments required to meet the needs of the region’s growing population.
In the meantime, we’ll benefit from the higher-quality water that results from a fuller reservoir, and we’ll become more resilient in the face of climate change, which threatens to undermine the rainfall patterns we rely on to fill our reservoir each winter.
Many tools and strategies are available to encourage more efficient use of water. Conservation bylaws are one such tool. From May 1 to Sept. 30 each year, the CRD automatically enters Stage 1 of the three stages in the bylaw, which places restrictions on outdoor watering activities. Subsequent stages, with more restrictive rules about water use, are activated as needed, in consideration of a range of factors such as reservoir levels, weather forecasts and water-consumption trends.
Pricing is a particularly effective means of influencing water-use behaviour.
For example, municipal water-service providers could introduce tiered water-price structures that enable low-volume users to pay lower per-unit prices than high-volume users, providing residents with an incentive to reduce water use, particularly discretionary outdoor water use.
Such conservation-oriented price structures are in place with great effect in many communities throughout the country, including on the Southern Gulf Islands serviced by the CRD, and those serviced by the Regional District of Nanaimo.
Given the seasonally variable nature of water availability in our region and the high outdoor demand during the dry summer season, the CRD, as the wholesale provider of water for most of the region, and the municipalities that set retail rates should also consider the use of seasonal water rates. Seasonal rates have been adopted in recent years by Vancouver and Seattle, which face similar climatic conditions and water-consumption trends.
An important starting point is more awareness of our water supply’s seasonal limitations and our personal consumption habits. Participating in a spring tour of the watershed areas is a great way to gain appreciation for our exceptionally secure and high-quality water supply.
The CRD’s weekly Water Watch reports — found online at http://bit.ly/2dn3ElT — provide updates on water supply conditions, demand, and comparisons with previous years, and the CRD Water Conservation website also contains lots of water conservation tips you can consider to do your part.
Paul Elworthy, Rebecca Mersereau and Anne Gibson are members of the CRD Water Advisory Committee.
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