COLUMN: Water is a valuable resource

Any program that encourages a reduction in its use is well worth supporting.

Water conservation should be a fundamental objective of any government and community, no matter where the water comes from.

While B.C. generally has an abundance of water, due to our regular rainy season and lots of snow in the mountains, last year was an exception. Water levels in reservoirs were low and there were lengthy restrictions on water use during the spring, summer and fall months.

A delegation to White Rock council reinforced the importance of water conservation last week. Marilyn McArthur said her Beachview Avenue triplex will be charged for using a minimum 12,000 cubic feet of water per quarter, even though the water actually used by the residents is just one-third of that amount.

While she is concerned about the extra cost, she told councillors that the most important thing is water conservation.

“The important thing, I think, is not the fee. It’s the fact that we’re wasting water and people are being overcharged for the water they are using,” she said. “If you’re going to charge me for 12,000 cubic feet, I might let my taps run all day long. There’s no incentive to conserve water.”

White Rock city manager Dan Bottrill said the city’s billing program is based closely on what the former owner of the water utility, Epcor, had in place. He agreed that McArthur made a valid point, and said city staff will explore possible options. He also said a different billing system may be possible in the future when the city knows more about water consumption patterns.

White Rock gets its water from its own wells, but there is no guarantee that there will be an unlimited supply of water – particularly if the city continues to densify. While there is no reason White Rock could not hook up to the Metro Vancouver supply to back up its wells or even to eventually supplant them, that would remove the level of control that the city now has over water. It only bought the water utility last year, and has yet to reveal the price it paid to Epcor.

Surrey and Delta, meanwhile, get their water from Metro Vancouver. It has spent billions over the past several decades to upgrade and improve the water supply, but it does ultimately depend on the snowpack and rainfall. Last year’s excessively dry conditions showed that the water supply is finite.

Surrey requires water meters to be installed at all new residences and has encouraged other water users to get meters – something that many people have done, as it is often cheaper to pay for the water you actually use rather than a flat fee.

Delta also has a voluntary water metering system for detached houses (not duplexes or strata units). Its website points out that “An average residential household of three to four people consumes approximately 340 to 400 cubic meters of water annually. That is equivalent to 308 litres of water per person per day.”

There are many opportunities to save water. Any program that encourages a reduction in water use is well worth supporting, and other programs that encourage less use of water – particularly in the summer months – may be worth considering.

McArthur’s comments to White Rock council are a timely reminder to use water wisely and sparingly. We are fortunate to have a supply of clean water literally at our fingertips. Let’s use it appropriately.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.

 

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