The greening of tourist accommodation on Salt Spring Island


Posted October 2006

by Paul O'Callaghan


Project Background

Most Salt Spring residents would agree that water is a valued resource on the island. In summer, when rainfall is at its lowest and demand is at its peak, lake levels and groundwater levels can drop to critically low levels.


There is a strong seasonal influx of tourists and part-time residents to Salt Spring Island in the summer period that increases demand on water resources. There is also considerable agricultural activity on the Islands, which results in increased demands on water for irrigation during the summer months. Therefore, there is a clear need to manage the island’s competing uses of existing water resources.  


A number of local groups are actively engaged in looking at water resource issues: the Water Council, the Water Preservation Society, and the Conservancy. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce has been developing a program for Green Hospitality Accommodations under the title ‘Simply Salt Spring’.


Paul O’Callaghan of O2 Environmental had worked previously on Salt Spring Island designing on-site and grey-water treatment systems, and was familiar with the issues surrounding the island’s summer water-use demands on water resources. Through his discussions with Environment Canada, the Chamber of Commerce, and a number of local groups, Paul developed a project to look at the tourist accommodation sector with the support of the Georgia Basin Action Plan.


O’Callaghan explains that, “The goal of the project was to look at how tourist operators on Salt Spring Island could adopt best water conservation practices and make tourism accommodation on Salt Spring Island a beacon of environmental stewardship and a model for sustainability for the Gulf Islands.”


Project Findings

An inventory of tourist accommodation was created; a number of water districts helped out by providing water-use records. The types of tourist accommodation examined fell into three main groups: bed and breakfasts, self-catering cottages and holiday homes, and hotels and resorts. A total of 177 individual tourist accommodations were identified, which could accommodate about 1,500 guests.


A case study was carried out in one B&B, which had implemented measures including a two-night minimum stay, low-flush toilets, flow restrictors on shower heads, and provision of educational material for guests. Looking back at July and August water-use records before and after the implementation of water conservation measures, there was a 20 percent drop in use per head per day from 360 to 280 litres. To put this into perspective, the average North American uses 350 litres of water per day, while on Salt Spring this figure is lower than the national average 317 litres per head per day (North Salt Spring Island Water District Records). Water use per head per day in the Scott Point Water District was even lower again, due in part to higher water tariffs in that district. Lower year-round occupancies may have also played a part.


In the North Salt Spring Water District, water use in July and August is almost double what it is for the rest of year. So, clearly through a combination of visiting friends and relatives, outdoor water use, etc. there is an increased demand at the time when lake and well levels are at their lowest.


Peter Allan from the Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce says, “We were encouraged to see that there was already substantial uptake of water conservation measures and at the same time it helped us to identify where there was room for improvement. Thirty percent of respondents indicated they had rainwater-harvesting measures in place, which is great, but it also means that 70 percent of operations could save water by implementing this measure. While 70 percent of respondents indicated they had low-flush toilets in place, there are 30 percent who could improve water efficiency by making the switch. The project has helped us to see where we are in terms of water use, and also to identify what more we could be doing. So lots done, more to do is the message!”  


One of the goals of the project was to identify what obstacles operators feel are preventing them from doing even better and to look at ways in which we could provide any resources to assist. To this end, the Chamber of Commerce will produce some standardised educational material for display in guest rooms as part of the ‘Simply Salt Spring’ program.