PLANNING FOR WATER RESILIENCY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “A longstanding goal of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is to find a balance between supporting those local governments who are leaders, while over time raising the bar to encourage the rest,” states Brian Bedford, A/Executive Director, Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing
Note to Reader:
In the Partnership for Water Sustainability’s weekly newsletters, Waterbucket eNews celebrates the commitment, hard work and perseverance of individuals and organizations whose efforts make a difference for the common good vis-à-vis land and water management in the local government setting.
In this edition we feature the BC Landscape Water Calculator, the newest tool in the Partnership toolbox. Targeting seasonal outdoor water use represents the best opportunity to achieve “water use in balance with a changing water cycle”. We connect the dots to the provincial government’s Water Conservation Condition which local governments must satisfy if they wish to obtain infrastructure grants.
“The Water Conservation Condition is the contractual requirement that any grant application for a water, wastewater or stormwater project in British Columbia must be supported by a current Council or Board endorsed Water Conservation Plan. To meet the requirement, the plan must have have been updated within the last five years. The cycle is such that many plans will soon require updating. This creates opportunities,” states Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
“The 45 actions and targets in Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan establish expectations vis-à-vis how land will be developed and how water will be used in a changing climate. The Water Conservation Condition directly supports these two targets which specifically address water use:
- Water use in BC will be 33 percent more efficient by 2020 (Doing Business Differently); and
- 50 percent of new municipal water needs will be acquired through conservation by 2020 (Preparing Communities for Change).
“The BC Landscape Water Calculator is an outcome of a multi-year investment by the provincial government and other partners to develop science-based tools. It is the latest spin-off tool from the BC Agriculture Water Demand Model. Another spin-off tool is the BC Agriculture Water Calculator which supports the provincial government’s application process for all new water licences.
“Now live at http://bcwatercalculator.ca/landscape/irrigation, the calculator is in the public domain. This means it can be accessed and used by all BC local governments for water resiliency planning and management of outdoor water use.
“Integration of the BC Landscape Water Calculator, as a foundation piece for the next generation of water conservation programs, would help communities bring to fruition the vision for water sustainability. Use of the tool would help local governments achieve their water budgets and associated demand reduction targets.”
BC Landscape Water Calculator – foundation piece for next generation of water conservation programs in British Columbia
In British Columbia, local government grant applicants must provide an up-to-date, succinct, effective, council or board endorsed Water Conservation Plan, which covers the entire water system, to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Or, in the situation that a Water Conservation Plan has been previously submitted to the Province and/or is more than 5 years old, the local government applicant is required to submit an updated outline of that plan that identifies actions that are complete, in process and any new actions planned.
“Water Conservation Condition” for Infrastructure Grants
“A longstanding goal of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is to find a balance between supporting those local governments who are leaders, while over time raising the bar to encourage the rest,” reports Brian Bedford, A/Executive Director, Local Government Infrastructure & Finance, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
“The Ministry’s application of the Water Conservation Condition as a contract requirement for infrastructure grants exemplifies our pragmatic, multi-year approach to incentivize changes in practice. This contract requirement points to the web-based Water Conservation Calculator.
“A decade ago, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Partnership for Water Sustainability collaborated to implement the Water Conservation Calculator. This front-end tool helped to leverage development of Water Conservation Plans province-wide. The majority of local governments now have such plans. That represents cumulative progress over time.
“With many Water Conservation Plans being more than 5 years old, it is time for a refresh. And this is where we believe the new BC Landscape Water Calculator has a timely fit. The tool is an exciting new evolution. It would allow local governments to further support their Water Conservation Plans with the next piece of education for those who are actually turning on the taps at their homes.”
Expectations evolve into Requirements
“The bar has been raised and no longer can a local government simply state in an application that they have a Water Conservation Plan endorsed by Council or Board resolution. Now, when a grant application is submitted, the Ministry asks for confirmation that an up-to-date plan has been approved by Council or Board resolution within the last 5 years.
“In addition, applicants must provide an update on their water conservation work and the goals that have been accomplished by the existing plan during the period following Council or Board approval. The Ministry requires that local governments include both an assessment of what their successes have been, and a look ahead as to where their Water Conservation Plans are going next.
“It is in the look ahead that one can foresee the opportunity for a local government to identify what role the BC Landscape Water Calculator could play in achieving water conservation targets and further reducing water use in the community.”
Incrementally Raising the Bar in BC
“Going back 15 years to the mid-2000s, the Province recognized the need to encourage better water conservation by water users and water purveyors in BC. The question was – what policy levers were available to help make that change, and what would incentivize it? And so, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs found an opportunity to align provincial grant programs with water conservation targets.
“Over time, the process has been one of incrementally raising the bar in defined steps – awareness first, then education, and finally, full implementation. In the case of Water Conservation Plans, it went from just being questions to becoming an optional document, to being a conditional requirement on approved contracts.
“Now that we have fairly good saturation province-wide, a Water Conservation Plan is a mandatory document in order to apply for an infrastructure grant.
“Moving forward, updating of the Water Conservation Condition for the next iteration of the grants program would create the opportunity to integrate the BC Landscape Water Calculator and start nudging local governments to be aware of the tool. Initially, we would flag it as an available tool that local governments can explore and work with,” concludes Brian Bedford.
BC Landscape Water Calculator is Science-Based
The BC Landscape Water Calculator educates users because they are able to compare water use for separate landscape profiles,” states Ted van der Gulik. Prior to retirement from government, he was the Senior Engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture. He is the current President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.
“By following the Users Guide, and through experimentation with the dropdowns, they learn that ‘water need’ varies depending on plant type, irrigation system, local climate and soil type.”
Linked to Provincial Database
“Most importantly, the tool allows the users to divide their properties into ‘hydrozones’, otherwise known as planting areas. Then they can test various combinations of plant types and irrigation systems. The objective is to be at or below the allowable water budget, which can be set by each local government partner.
“The power of the tool is that it is linked to a provincial 500 metre gridded climate dataset that was built for the Agricultural Water Demand Model.This is what establishes the allowable water budget. It is a real number based on average climate data for the period 2000 through 2010 for the active growing season.”
Kelowna is the 1st Application
“Customizing of the tool for use within Kelowna included plant selection dropdowns developed with assistance from the Okanagan Xeriscape Association.
“The database also provides the user with guidance as to whether plant selections are suitable for sun exposure or shade. Think about why that is important. Water efficient plants can be customized for each region or local government.”
“In summary, a key takeaway message is that the BC Landscape Water Calculator has benefited from a major provincial investment in a science-based approach to quantifying how much water is needed for irrigation.
“Now any property owner in BC can zoom in to their property and quantify their outdoor water need based on climate, soil, plant type and irrigation system. Over time, province-wide use of the tool would result in enhanced resiliency of community water supplies, by developing landscapes that are water efficient,” concludes Ted van der Gulik.
Partnership Vision for Mainstreaming Province-Wide
“Our vision is that province-wide mainstreaming would begin in 2021. In the meantime, we invite expressions of interest from local governments wishing to be part of the program. All you need do is email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and write a note that you are interested and wish to learn more about getting involved,” states Ted van der Gulik.
“While anyone in British Columbia can now use the calculator, there are benefits to a local government in becoming a partner in the program. As the City of Kelowna experience foreshadows, incorporating local knowledge and requirements would stimulate local uptake of the tool.”