Watering Restrictions Conserve WID

The Westbank Irrigation District (WID) is situated on the west side of Okanagan Lake opposite the City of Kelowna. The semi-arid Okanagan Valley is experiencing high population growth rates and the District is facing increasing pressures as it tries to manage water resources. The hot dry summer of 2003 prompted the District to look at ways to reduce peak water flows and conserve water. Due to limited water storage in its reservoirs, WID needed to encourage conservation to ensure the sustainability of the delivery system. Water conservation would also help to decrease treatment costs and capital expenditures for the future construction of a new water treatment plant.

By initiating its “Water Conservation Measures” (WCM) in July 2003, WID joined the other 50 percent of B.C. utilities that utilize watering restrictions (according to a recent survey). This program restricts residential and commercial users to watering only on certain times of the day and week. These measures are to be continuously enforced as stated in a District bylaw. A program was put in place to communicate the details of the WCM to customers and educate them as to why water conservation was important. This was done through mailed newsletters, newspaper announcements, and personal education given to customers by way of students hired for the program. The students also helped in the monitoring of compliance with the bylaw.

As part of its water management initiatives, WID is also looking at ways to increase the storage capacity of its reservoirs, conduct ongoing reviews of its programs, and improve communication with its customers. Water meters are also being given serious consideration for the near future since they can be very effective at encouraging customers to conserve water.

When programs of this nature are implemented, challenges do arise. WID found that customer education and communication was the biggest challenge faced. However, effective public education is critical to the success of programs such as this. It not only teaches customers about water-use efficiency and conservation, but also helps deal with negative public reactions to the implementation of these programs.

WID found its conservation program resulted in tremendous benefits. Decreased water use led to its ability to more effectively manage and supply water to customers, even during the drought year of 2003. This was done without seriously depleting its reservoirs. Had these plans not been implemented, serious water shortages would have occurred. Peak flow reductions also allowed the District to put one of its pumps on standby, which kept it available for emergencies. Additionally, reduced peak flows minimized water loss from storage reservoirs.

Brian Jamieson, WID Manager, noted, “There were a few two or three week periods when we experienced no precipitation during the summer of 2004. These periods showed a decrease in water usage of 18 percent in 2004 as compared to 2003. Conservatively, a ten percent reduction in demand can be attributed to the WID’s Water Conservation Measures and to our education campaign.”

For communities considering water conservation programs Brian Jamieson advises, “Understand the limitations of your water distribution system and design measures that will contribute to water conservation, reducing operating and capital costs and be relatively easy to implement and monitor. Metering has to be considered as it is the most effective and fair method to reduce water consumption.”

Watering restrictions reduce peak demands and help conserve water, and as such, many B.C. communities have implemented them. Water-use restrictions are practical tools that can be used to manage water resources. However, water conservation programs will be more effective when a number of tools are used. Brian Jamieson stated, “The public needs to understand the true value of drinking water. Flat rates are not responsible and will not sustain the utility in the future.” Water conservation programs involving public education, water meter use, and watering restrictions when necessary help achieve the goal of a sustainable water supply system.