Water Stewardship

Water Conservation Strategy

Current Initiatives and Activities

Water use efficiency is not a new concept. Its roots are founded upon long-established principles and theories within the applied field of environmental resource management. At an individual level, people have always been practicing water conservation in one form or another, for both practical and ethical reasons.

At the community or organizational level, water use efficiency has been applied as the need arose, and as skills and practices were developed. It has been taken up as a single issue initiative as well as an integrated part of other related programs. In British Columbia, water use efficiency has become a more prominent activity over the past five years, although some B.C. communities initiated water efficient measures well before then.

The following discussion on current initiatives and activities is not an exhaustive inventory. Small scale and individual initiatives are not represented in this overview. However, it demonstrates the breadth of activity, both in scale and in variation (See Appendix 2 for more detailed descriptions of initiatives).

3.1 Local Governments

In February, 1998, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) (now called Ministry of Environment [MoE]), on behalf of the Water Conservation Strategy Working Group, contracted the compilation of existing or planned water use efficiency initiatives throughout British Columbia. The survey first enquired into the rationale for implementing efficiency measures and then identified eleven broad categories of water conservation tools. A total of 190 self administered surveys were sent to municipalities, regional districts and selected irrigation and improvement districts throughout the province. Additional information was gathered through follow-up telephone interviews. The results from 127 surveys (66% return rate) are summarized in Appendix 2.

Fully 76% of surveyed local governments in British Columbia indicated that they have adopted some water conservation measures as part of their water management programs. Among those local governments that indicated they had adopted a water conservation program, capacity constraints (65%) and the need to reduce costs (62%) were the two most common reasons for doing so. Environmental stewardship reasons (33%) and potential droughts (23%) were also commonly identified. Other reasons included: more equitable distribution of costs, part of regional strategy or following the lead of another agency, and to reduce sewer flows.

Although a wide variety of water use efficiency tools have been adopted throughout the province, the most common conservation tools employed by local governments in B.C. include: mandatory restrictions, metering programs and communication tools such as media announcements and water bill supplements.

Almost 60% of the survey respondents have used mandatory restrictions and 50% have used by-laws to regulate water use or set water rates. In contrast, enabling tools such as standards, are not commonly used.

Meters are required to monitor water use and employ conservation pricing structures. Close to 50% of local governments reported using metering programs and several more are currently engaged in metering studies. Inclining block rates and seasonal rates were used in the survey as examples of conservation pricing structures. However, less than a handful of municipalities and irrigation districts utilize these tools. Of those 25 local governments currently testing meters, only 7 are also addressing alternative pricing structures.

Over 50% of respondents use at least one communication and education tool and 31 (24%) use five or more tools. The majority of communication initiatives are aimed at the residential sector through media announcements and water bill supplements. The industrial/commercial sector also receives information through these tools. Twenty percent of respondents have school curriculum programs.

It is evident that water conservation is still in the early stages of development in British Columbia although the survey response indicates that water use efficiency measures are viable and beneficial. Thirty-two percent of respondents have in-house programs that actually reduce water use or loss on government-owned property. Those that have taken action to reduce water use have done so through water efficient landscaping (i.e. xeriscaping, irrigation, operations & maintenance and climate comfort systems), leak detection and repair, low flow retrofits and employee education.

It appears from the patterns of implementation shown by the survey that local governments are approaching water use efficiency incrementally. Although almost 100 of the survey respondents have incorporated water conservation measures in some way, only 17 (13%) have engaged themselves in strategic planning for their water utility. It is unknown whether those 17 local governments addressed water use efficiency in their plans. Moreover, only 10% of local governments reported that they are actively educating elected officials on water use issues and water conservation which indicates that decision makers may be largely unaware of the potential benefits of water use efficiency as an important component of long term water supply management.

There are several possible reasons why water use efficiency is not being widely adopted in a more comprehensive and rigorous manner, including: lack of knowledge and expertise, legal barriers, costs and a lack of recognition for the potential benefits of water use efficiency.

3.2 Provincial Government

Along with local government actions, the Province, through regulation and education, has also begun to undertake water conservation initiatives.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) (now called Ministry of Environment [MoE]) is currently leading or supporting a number of environmental education activities aimed at school children and the general public.

MELP has also proposed "Municipal Sewage Regulations" which will encourage the use of reclaimed water to address the issues of water shortages, and increasing supply demands from, and discharges to, streams and aquifers located within municipalities.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food has been actively involved in piloting and testing water efficient measures for several years. This ministry is developing manuals and guides on ways to save water through irrigation.

Building codes are being reviewed to improve water use efficiency in the province. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) will release a new Building and Plumbing Code this fall and will acknowledge the Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia as part of a separate regulation that addresses water efficiency requirements for new buildings.

Also, British Columbia Buildings Corporation (BCBC) has adopted technical standards that require increased efficiencies in irrigation and landscaping for all provincially owned and operated buildings.

3.3 Federal Government

Although the federal government has no direct responsibilities over municipal water and sewer infrastructures, it has an important role in providing infrastructure funding, developing water policies, distributing information, conducting policy research and analysis, and improving water use efficiency in federal facilities.

The 1987 Federal Water Policy clearly stated the need to acknowledge the value of water and revise water pricing structures to reflect full costs and the user pay principle. The federal policy is currently being updated. Water use and demand continues to be identified as an important national issue.

The National Action Plan to Encourage Municipal Water Use Efficiency (1994) has been an important catalyst in advocating water efficiency.

3.4 B.C. Water and Waste Association

The B.C. Water and Waste Association (BCWWA) has been instrumental in addressing water use efficiency in the province through the Water Use Efficiency Committee, technology transfer conferences and seminar series.

In 1995 the BCWWA committee merged with the provincial committee of the National Task Force (the task force developed the National Action Plan) and took on the leadership role to advocate municipal water use efficiency in the province. The Water Use Efficiency Committee is represented by the federal and provincial governments; a broad spectrum of local governments; BC Hydro; the Water Supply Association of B.C. and the academic community.