Vancouverites are water pigs. Because we live on the edge of a
assume there is an endless supply of pure, cheap water. But with the
Drought of 2003, Greater Vancouver Regional District residents now
that, like everything else on this finite planet, water is not
providing clean drinking water is not cheap.
Canadians consume about 1,600 cubic meters of water a year per person.
compares to 180 for the UK,
720 for Japan and
840 for Australia.
the US at
1,800 uses more. Vancouverites top the list of global water users
litres per person per day, way above Seattle’s
426 litres. This summer’s drought has turned many Vancouverites into
conservationists. But will those good intentions dissolve with the
rains? And what will it take to tackle the increasing cost of supplying
region with clean water?
Two hundred and thirty GVRD Water District workers are responsible for
delivering one billion litres of water that is consumed every day by
agriculture, institutions, businesses and 750,000 households across the
The water comes from three North Shore Watershed reservoirs with a
capacity of 220 million cubic metres. The 2003 budget for getting it
watersheds to your tap is $86 million. That budget is expected to jump
as a new
$600 million water filtration plant comes on line by 2006. And if
going up, water may have to be piped from the Coquitlam reservoir,
hefty chunk to the budget.
Unfortunately a lot of that expensive water is wasted. Fully 30
of all water goes down the toilet. Unlike most of Europe, Asia and Australia
6-litre toilets are the norm, the average Vancouverite uses 16 litres
for each flush. Showers use another 15 per cent, while 10 per cent
away through leaks in the system. In the summer months, 40 per cent of
used for lawn sprinkling even though botanists say grasses
to dry conditions and don’t need to be watered.
Industry is a big water user. Burnaby’s
Chevron refinery tops the list at 1.5 million cubic metres a year,
the Port Authority at 1.2 million and Molson’s Brewery at 1.1 million.
courses are notorious water users as they lay their fairways over sandy
surfaces that quickly drain moisture. Industrial use is metered, but at
relatively low rates.
Most GVRD households now pay a flat rate for water. The
average is about $200 a year no matter how much water is
Except for White Rock and Langley
City, where all
homes have water
meters; and Surrey, North Van, West Van, Richmond
and Maple Ridge, that now require meters in new developments, the GVRD
the only metropolitan area in North America
without universal metering.
Municipalities have been reluctant to take on the cost of metering:
approximately $400 for a meter and another $30 a year to monitor and
it. And until this summer’s drought it has not been on the political
screen. But the arguments for metering are undeniable.
Victoria has had
metering for decades and uses
15 per cent less water than Vancouver.
In Surrey, which has a program for
retrofitting meters in older homes, some households experience savings
of up to
$130 a year in their water rates. In Ottawa,
consumption dropped by 27 per cent after meters were put in.
So what is stopping metering? When asked, most municipal politicians
support metering. During the 2002 municipal elections in Greater
polled almost 500 candidates in the 15 largest municipalities of the
Fully 79 per cent of candidates said they support residential water
Yet there is little political appetite for the issue.
Water is clearly a regional issue. Every new residential development in
GVRD should require a water meter. Grants allowing homeowners to
existing buildings with meters can be implemented. Surrey
already has such a scheme in place.
Building codes can be amended to encourage low flush toilets,
showers, washers and other appliances. Existing houses can be
a $65 rebate to anyone who installs a water-efficient toilet.
Simple things such as installing rain barrels to collect water for
washing saves precious tap water. The City of Vancouver sells 75-gallon rain
barrels at a
subsidized rate. More than 1200 are already in use across the city.
High volume commercial uses such as car washes and golf courses can be
reconsidered. Is it necessary to wash cars as often? Do we have to play
The Great Drought
of ’03 is a wake-up call. We must change from a culture of water
wasters to an
attitude of respect for a precious and limited resource. The residents
Greater Vancouver and their policy makers need to take some clear
before the taps run dry.