LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: Unveiled in 2009, BC’s online Water Conservation Calculator decision support tool is a foundation piece for a long-term provincial strategy that aligned eligibility for infrastructure grant programs with Living Water Smart targets for improving water use efficiency and achieving water supply resiliency province-wide through Council or Board endorsed Water Conservation Plans

Note to Reader:

Developed by the Province of British Columbia in collaboration with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, the Water Conservation Calculator (WCC) is a free, web-based decision-support tool used to illustrate how specific water conservation measures can yield both fiscal and physical water savings for communities.

Held in Victoria, British Columbia in October 2009, the 3rd Canadian National Conference & Policy Forum on Water Efficiency and Conservation was the venue for unveiling of the Beta version of the Water Conservation Calculator.

According to Glen Pleasance, Technical Program Chair, “The Conference provided a unique national perspective on water efficiency and conservation programs, issues and initiatives – focussing on all aspects of municipal efficiency programs from technology, to best management practices, to policy and education programs. Normally these issues are addressed piecemeal, or on a regional basis – this event provided a national Canadian perspective.”

Complementary to the CWWA National Conference, and to support the Ministry, the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance hosted a Water Conservation Planning Workshop. Led by Oliver Brandes, it was targeted at municipal staff directly involved in the development of water plans, such as water managers and staff, sustainability coordinators, engineers, ecologists, consultants, watershed advisors and citizen representatives. 

The conference presentation and Water Conservation Calculator demonstration was made by Lisa Wright, an Infrastructure Resource Officer with the BC Ministry of Community & Rural Development. A preliminary version of the Water Conservation Calculator was showcased earlier in 2009 at the Penticton Forum.

Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan

In June 2008, the Province released Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. The 45 targets and actions established expectations vis-à-vis how land would be developed and how water would be used in a changing climate. Performance targets included these ones for reducing 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)

These targets provided the backdrop for development of Water Conservation Plans.

Vision for Water Conservation Calculator
as a Tool for Use by Small Communities

“The web-based Water Conservation Calculator has now been launched in its first BETA testing live release. The tool will continue to be under validation testing until its final live release,” stated Lisa Wright in October 2009.

“The freeware Water Conservation Calculator is an on-line user-friendly tool geared for water purveyors of smaller communities. Smaller communities often cannot allocate resources to traditional infrastructure projects or cannot budget for the development of water conservation and efficiency plans by service providers.”

“Its purpose is to illustrate how specific conservation measures yield both fiscal and physical water consumption savings. Water purveyors can use the tool to assist in presenting their conservation case to council and other decision makers.”

Foreshadowing of ‘Water Conservation Condition’ for
Infrastructure Grant Applications

“A properly designed conservation program has the ability to extend the life of infrastructure, reduce repair, treatment and power costs, reduce power expenses, and defer or eliminate the need for major capital costs. Use of the Water Conservation Calculator may become a Ministry requirement as part of the infrastructure grant application process,” foreshadowed Liam Edwards in October 2009. At the time, he was A/Director, Infrastructure and Engineering.

Earlier in his career with the Ministry, when he was an Infrastructure Resource Officer, Liam Edwards developed the original spreadsheet tool that was the genesis for the online calculator tool.

Fast Forward to 2020 and Current Practice

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.

In 2020, Brian Bedford provided this perspective, “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 being questions to becoming an optional document, to being a conditional requirement on approved contracts.” Brian Bedford is currently the A/Executive Director, Local Government Infrastructure & Finance, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

“The Water Conservation Calculator 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.”

About the Water Conservation Calculator and the Need it Serves

The WCC is easy to navigate, with instructional text to help guide the user through each of the five modules. Technical support is also available through the ‘help’ function. A basic understanding of the community water system is necessary to use the WCC. Before beginning, community and water system data need to be collected. Data requirements have been categorized as mandatory and optional. The key pieces of functionality that it provides are:

  • collecting and recording community water system data;
  • preparing useful information about the current state of the water system and future demands;
  • comparison of conservation demand management and supply-side upgrade options;
  • assistance in more accurately targeting conservation efforts, thereby increasing the cost effectiveness of conservation campaigns;
  • offering finance planning for conservation demand management and supply-side upgrades;
  • assistance in decision making around new infrastructure (can illustrate the possibility of capital deferment); and
  • presenting charting and a printable PDF report based on data inputs, outputs, and benchmark values.

“Water conservation should be seen as alternative or supplemental to planned infrastructure projects. In essence, conservation is a resource in its own right. It provides safe, clean, water sooner, that is less costly, and less impactful on the environment than traditional source development or upgrade projects,” concluded Lisa Wright in her 2009 presentation.