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Water Use & Conservation

‘A Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia’, released in 1998, is a foundation document. It marks the shift from a WHY change to HOW to change mind-set.

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“A Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia” was launched at the 1998 Annual Convention of the Union of BC Municipalities


“A Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia” was developed by a working group chaired by Prad Khare. The Strategy will contribute to a sustained and healthy resource and provide a common framework for water management activities throughout the province by advancing water as a valuable resource which must be utilized efficiently, wisely and cost-effectively to sustain a high quality of social, environmental and economic well-being, for now and in the future.

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Water, Water Everywhere….Does British Columbia Really Need a Water Conservation Strategy?


In 1992, co-authored papers by Tom Heath and Kim Stephens and by Ted van der Gulik (left) and Kim Stephens, respectively, were published as an integrated magazine article. “Although there is a perception that BC is water-rich, the reality is that we are often seasonally water-short (mainly because of storage limitations) during the period when water demand is heaviest due to lawn and garden irrigation,” wrote the authors in their opening paragraph.

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WATCH THE VIDEO / WATER AND A CHANGING CLIMATE: “Because the earth is a closed-loop system, new water is not being created. What is changing in British Columbia is the seasonal distribution. Longer, drier summers are followed by warmer, wetter winters. Extreme droughts followed by extreme floods show just how unbalanced the seasonal water cycle is now. This is our new reality,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (July 2021)


“A long career provides perspective. In my five decades as water resource planner and engineer, there are three years that really stand out in British Columbia when the topic is water conservation. After what in respect was a benign half-century, 1987 was BC’s first wake up call. The drought was unprecedented in living memory. But it was 2003 that truly was what we call ‘the teachable year.’ This really got the attention of British Columbians that the climate was indeed changing. In 2015, the West Coast of North America crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. And it has happened faster than anyone expected,” stated Kim Stephens.

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WATER SUPPLY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA’S CHANGING CLIMATE: “Since 2000, summer precipitation has dropped about 20 per cent. This step change is unusual,” stated Hans Schreier, a professor emeritus of land and water systems at the University of British Columbia (July 2021)


Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. “If we’d go to some good conservation measures, we wouldn’t have to worry for the next 15 or 20 years about summer water supplies, But we’re a very slow starter — everybody thinks we have enough water. It’s not a technical problem, it’s a social problem. You’ve got variability every year, and all of a sudden it dropped about 20 per cent. This means we need to be far more conscientious about summer water use,” stated Hans Schreier.

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DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: 42 days and counting – no end in sight for dry spell, which began after Metro Vancouver’s last measurable rainfall on June 15, 2021


As Metro Vancouver headed into Day 43 of drought, officials asked residents to keep the six-week-long lack of precipitation in mind when they think about watering their lawn or washing their car. “We’re keeping a close eye on things. We need people to be really mindful about how they are using the water that is available. We’re certainly not in a position where we’ve got surplus water and people can do whatever they want,” stated Marilyn Towill, Metro Vancouver General Manager of Water Services.

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DROUGHTS AFFECT ALL OF US: “A generation ago, water supply managers could reasonably anticipate that three months of water storage would be sufficient to maintain supply during a dry summer. Today, however, a 6-month drought is a very real likelihood,” stated Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC (July 2021)


“Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability related to seasonal supply of water in BC. Over time, the safety factor has been shrinking. While it rains a lot in BC, we do not have an abundance of supply when demand is greatest. In addition, the mountainous nature of BC’s geography means that BC communities are typically storage-constrained, and what storage they do have is measured in weeks to months. As of 2015, we clearly crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydrometeorological regime in Western North America,” stated Kim Stephens.

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OUTDOOR WATER USE IN BALANCE WITH A CHANGING WATER CYCLE: “Local governments in three regions – Okanagan, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island – are collaborating with the Partnership for Water Sustainability to operationalize the BC Landscape Water Calculator. This new online tool helps homeowners design water efficient yards and gardens,” stated Ted van Gulik


“The power of the BC Landscape Water Calculator 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 for each and every property in British Columbia. The allowable water budget is a real number. It is based on average climate data for the period 2000 through 2010 for the active growing season. This establishes a location-specific performance target for landscape design. Users then test various combinations of plant types and irrigation systems to determine their total landscape water need,” stated Ted van der Gulik.

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“A Water Conservation Plan is a mandatory document in order to apply for an infrastructure grant. The Ministry requires that local governments include both an assessment of what their successes have been, and a look ahead as to where their plans are going next,” stated Brian Bedford, Executive Director, Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing


“Going back 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 found an opportunity to align provincial grant programs with water conservation targets. The Ministry defined the Water Conservation Condition as the contractual mechanism of choice. It is written into all contracts for infrastructure grants as a requirement,” stated Brian Bedford.

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BRITISH COLUMBIA’S DROUGHT RESPONSE PLAN / 2021 UPDATE: “Expanding the existing drought levels from a four to six-level scale more accurately describes stream flow drought and water scarcity conditions in B.C,” stated Julia Berardinucci, Director of Water Strategies and Conservation, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (May 2021)


“Drought severity in B.C. has previously been communicated through four ‘drought levels’. These categories are broad. Desired outcomes in going to a 6-level system include better understanding of current conditions, advance warning of extreme drought, and better alignment with other jurisdictions in North America. A new ‘severely dry’ level would signify a severe state of drought, and a new ‘exceptionally dry’ level would be used to identify drought conditions that are at or near historical lows,” stated Julia Berardinucci.

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LOOMING GROUNDWATER LICENSING DEADLINE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “As deadline looms, thousands of BC groundwater users risk losing access to water, but not most water bottling, fracking and mining companies,” wrote resource analyst Ben Parfitt after doing investigative research into who has applied, and who has not (May 2021)


“If the March 2022 deadline passes and thousands of (historical) groundwater users fail to apply, there could be big trouble ahead for the government and groundwater users alike. If existing historical users—some of whom can trace their use of specific water wells back generations—fail to apply before the deadline, they will find themselves in the same queue along with new entrants, creating a regulatory nightmare for the government and water users alike. Barring a massive surge in applications thousands of groundwater users could risk losing their access to water in less than a year,” wrote Ben Parfitt.

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FLASHBACK TO 2004: “The vision for the waterbucket.ca website is to provide a resource rich ‘destination location’ for water sustainability in British Columbia,” stated Mike Tanner, Waterbucket Chair, at the Penticton Drought Forum hosted by the Province of British Columbia (July 2004)


“Integrated water management involves consideration of land, water, air and living organisms – including humans – as well as the interactions among them. Through partnerships, the Water Sustainability Action Plan is promoting the watershed as a fundamental planning unit. The waterbucket.ca will connect all six Action Plan Elements to provide the complete story on integrated water management – why, what, where and how – and is the key to the communication strategy for the Action Plan,” stated Mike Tanner.

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ADAPTING TO THE NEW REALITY OF LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS: Unlike other regions and countries, the water supply challenge in British Columbia’s mountainous environment is that seasonal water storage potential is limited – such that there is little margin for operational error even though our droughts are measured in months rather than years!


“Drought severity in B.C. is currently communicated through four “drought levels”. Because these categories are broad, it makes it difficult to communicate moderate levels of drought, worsening drought conditions over time, or when regions are experiencing abnormal water scarcity. Desired outcomes in going to a 6-level system include better understanding of current conditions, advance warning of extreme drought, and better alignment with other jurisdictions in North America,” stated Julia Berardinucci.

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