B.C. communities are constantly faced with issues concerning population growth, ever-increasing development, environmental impacts, water supply problems, and wastewater treatment and disposal concerns to name just a few. Current construction and development practices do not produce sustainable communities and inflict great harm on the environment. Clearly, if sustainability is our ultimate goal, we must alter our present development paradigm. Is it possible to produce a sustainable community and simultaneously satisfy the needs and desires of its residents? Many communities are finding that it is possible, indeed, even desirable to do so.
A B.C. Water Conservation Survey conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee shows that 48 percent of utilities have recently upgraded their computer systems, while 19 percent are considering doing so. Not surprisingly, the main stumbling block is cost, with the majority of utilities looking for grants and funding from senior levels of government.
A 2004 Water Conservation Survey conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee shows that while a significant number of utilities are considering implementing best management practices (BMPs), few are actually using them. The most commonly used BMP—establishing a metering plan to account for water use and losses—has been adopted by just under one in three utilities, although it is being considered by another 44 percent. Other BMPs being used or considered include developing a water distribution system renewal plan (30 percent are using one, 41 percent are considering using one), water conservation (27 percent, 49 percent), and cross-connection control (27 percent, 39 percent).
The 2004 Water Conservation Survey conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee showed that only 18 percent of utilities are using benchmarking, while 21 percent are considering it.
As defined in Developing a Water Distribution System Renewal Plan—a best management practice created for the Ministry of Health by the BCWWA—water distribution system renewal planning (often called asset management) optimizes the life-cycle value of a utility’s physical (infrastructure) assets through effective maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement programs.”
Developing a Water Distribution System Renewal Plan outlines two complementary approaches—top-down and bottom-up. “The top-down approach is used for strategic long-term planning of policies and programs whereas the bottom-up approach is used for short-term capital planning of projects.”
According to 2004 B.C. Water Conservation Survey results, “most utilities appear to be quite forward thinking, as evidenced by the large number that employ multiple long-term planning tools. Overall, this focus on long-term planning coincides with the large number of utilities’ implementing performance measures in the near future.”
Because we undervalue our precious water resource, we tend to overuse it and, in fact, abuse it. The apparent abundance of water is deceptive, and the capacity of our lakes and rivers – and even of the oceans – to purify the wastes we dump into them is much more limited than we once thought it was. There is a price for it: billions and billions of dollars to clean up or prevent pollution. It is becoming abundantly clear that water is not a free good. Sooner or later it presents us with a bill: the price of neglect. In many cases we pay less than the actual cost of processing and delivery. For example, irrigation water charges only recover about 10% of the actual costs of the service. The same is true, to a less extreme extent, for water costs to householders.
It’s indisputable: water is in ever-mounting demand and diminishing supply. Yet, Canadians are some of the most gluttonous water users in the world. Many believe it’s a limitless resource and that the proverbial well will never run dry. But water availability, in a form suitable for humans and ecosystem functioning, is under pressure from increasing consumption and shrinking supplies through pollution, climate change and poor management.
Even though drought has been a concern in B.C. for the past number of years, a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee found that just one in three water utilities has embarked on a demand management program to reduce water consumption. But of the utilities that haven’t introduced a demand management program, more than half are considering doing so in the future. The majority (almost 90 percent) indicated that such a program would account for up to five percent of their operating budgets.
The 2004 Water Conservation Survey—conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the Water Sustainability Committee of the B.C. Water and Waste Association—showed that only 29 percent of water utilities are using performance measures to determine if they are achieving their water conservation objectives. Of note, though, is that almost half of those not using performance measures are considering doing so in the future.