Water Stewardship

Water Conservation Strategy

Strategic Directions

The Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia points to the need for a more co-ordinated, province-wide approach to water use management to ensure the most efficient use of our resource. Several strategic directions have been developed to reduce barriers that currently hinder specific actions at the community or individual level. Others are intended to encourage broader understanding and adoption of water use efficiency actions.

The ministries of Environment, Lands and Parks (now called Ministry of Environment); Municipal Affairs; and Agriculture and Food are being called upon to lead in the implementation of several strategic directions, either within their mandated responsibilities or to support local actions. BCBC, BC Hydro, BCWWA and other provincial organizations will have key roles in implementing this Strategy.

However, many strategic actions are more appropriately directed at the local level, to enhance benefits gained from initiatives already taken. Each community within its associated watershed has a unique set of biophysical, social, economic, organizational and infrastructural circumstances that influence long term water supply management. The strategic directions and actions identified in this document will have varying degrees of relevance from one community to another.

4.1 Enable and Regulate

Legislation and policies play an important role in society. They reflect commonly held values; they help to protect resources upon which we all depend; they require standards and expectations to be upheld; and they enable governments to act on behalf of the common good.


Legislation and Regulations

The application of legal tools for water use efficiency will require the development of new laws and policies, as well as amendment of existing tools, to encourage actions and reduce existing legal barriers to water use efficiency.


  • Review section 694 of the Municipal Act to give local governments authority to require water conservation measures in new buildings (lead: Ministry of Municipal Affairs (now Ministry of Community Services).
  • Review section 22(l) of the Environmental Assessment Act to enable the executive director to require the inclusion of water use efficiency and water conservation measures in project reports (lead: Ministry of Environment).
  • Implement the proposed "Municipal Sewage Regulations" to increase the use of reclaimed water to address water shortages, and to reduce supply needs from and augment discharges to streams and aquifers located within municipalities. Produce on-site water conservation guidelines including the use of municipal effluent (lead: Ministry of Environment).
  • Review water licence allocation policies under the Water Act, to address, among other things:
    • the timing and rate of stored water use for irrigation purposes;
    • the use of water conservation devices and techniques for all purposes; and
    • installation of metering devices to monitor water use for large scale water licences.
  • Develop policies and proclaim relevant sections of the Fish Protection Act to temporarily reduce water diversion in times of drought and to address water use efficiency measures in water management plans (lead: Ministry of Environment).
  • Review water supply plans, official community plans, by-laws, standards, policies and procedures as applicable to ensure efficient delivery, use, and pricing of water (lead: regional districts, municipalities, irrigation districts and other water purveyors).


British Columbia Building and Plumbing Code

The new B.C. Building and Plumbing Code is expected to be released this fall. Existing references to water efficient plumbing fixtures were recently extracted from the Code and placed into a specific regulation. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs (now Ministry of Community Services) will take the lead in amending the regulation to improve requirements for water use efficient fixtures.


  • Convene a sub-committee of the Water Conservation Strategy Working Group over the next 6 to 12 months with representation from local governments, Ministry of Municipal Affairs (now Ministry of Community Services), British Columbia Building Corporation, Ministry of Environment and industrial associations. The sub-committee should address proposed amendments to the water efficiency regulation, including:
    • ultra low flush toilets (6 litre) and urinals in new developments; and
    • similar standards for industrial, commercial and institutional buildings.

4.2 Plan, Manage and Evaluate

Most communities implement water use efficiency activities incrementally, often starting with public information or watering restrictions during emergency situations. These measures are relatively inexpensive and politically supportable. However, neither of these actions in themselves result in long lasting or substantial water savings.

Well planned water supply management which considers a variety of water use efficiency strategies, in conjunction with securing water supply sources, will provide greater opportunities to successfully deliver water in a cost-effective manner. In effect, increasing water use efficiency can be viewed as a water supply source.


Comprehensive Water Supply Planning

Comprehensive water supply management begins with a long-term plan and follows through with evaluation and improvement as part of an iterative process (Figure 5). Evaluation results can be used to redirect strategies and programs, reallocate budgets and measure overall progress in achieving desired objectives. The goal of a comprehensive water supply plan is to ensure there will be a reliable, cost-effective water service to meet a community's needs most of the time. However, a contingency plan should also be developed in anticipation of unusual events or emergencies that may arise.

Local governments, utilities and other large-scale water licensees are encouraged to seriously consider the following advantages in conducting a comprehensive water supply and management plan.

  • Public involvement in a planning process determines acceptable levels of risk and defines desired social benefits.
  • Costs and benefits to individual consumers, to purveyors and to society can be assessed.
  • Uncertainty factors that influence the reliability of water supply can be explicitly considered.


  • Give full consideration to water use efficiency measures in local and regional water supply planning processes (lead: local governments, private utilities). Criteria for evaluating water supply and water use efficiency measures should include:
    • cost vs benefits (environmental, social, economic);
    • ability to meet peak flows, baseline flows and future uses;
    • potential volume savings;
    • reliability risk;
    • confidence that a given measure will work;
    • acceptance and ease of implementation; and
    • preliminary unit cost.


Industrial Standards and Management Support

As previously mentioned, each community and water supply service area will possess different circumstances and require different approaches to achieving water use efficiency. The development of standards and best management practices will provide valuable guidance for water supply planning and management. Industry associations are often the most appropriate group to develop standards and codes of practice. They possess the knowledge required to overcome problems and they hold credibility as peers within their industrial sector.


  • For the landscape industry, develop irrigation design standards and guidelines, scheduling procedures, and irrigation system auditing programs. Establish a certification program for irrigation design professionals in British Columbia (lead: Irrigation Industry Association of British Columbia).
  • Develop irrigation design guidelines; scheduling procedures and guides; and best management practices for agricultural irrigation and other water uses (lead: B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food (now Ministry of Agriculture and Lands) and B.C. Agriculture Council).

4.3 Value and Motivate

Water is an undervalued resource. Although several factors influence behaviours, the importance of economic incentives to reinforce water use efficient practices and disincentives to discourage over-use cannot be underestimated.


Water Rates and Pricing Structures

Full cost accounting and cost recovery pricing structures sends a strong message to water users on the value of water. A carefully calculated water pricing strategy can fulfil two important needs. First, it contributes to financing water supply, treatment and disposal systems. Second, it can be used to motivate people to adopt water efficient measures through application of the "user pay" principle.

There are several types of water rates and conservation pricing structures.

Determining the type of structure and specific rates will depend on program objectives; relative advantages and disadvantages of each structure; and cost-effectiveness. Some of the principles that should be considered in designing a rate structure are:

  • Effectiveness in generating revenue to cover full costs and receive a fair return on public resources;
  • Effectiveness in allocating costs;
  • Effectiveness in achieving efficient water use;
  • Administrative efficiency in implementing the new rates; and
  • Willingness and ability to pay on the part of water users.

Allocating costs merits particular attention to address equity and economic efficiency issues. Rate structures should address fairness among different types of water use and users, and avoid subsidization of one group by another (e.g. industrial customers subsidizing residential customers). Economic efficiency refers to reflecting all direct and indirect costs of service (Mitchell and Hanemann, 1994).


  • Review pricing structures for water allocation (lead: Ministry of Environment) and retail water systems (lead: local governments) to address the full social, environmental and economic costs, benefits and value of water.


Financial Incentives

Positive reinforcement and incentives to implement water use efficient programs have been under-utilized. As prices will necessarily rise to cover the costs of infrastructure replacement, water treatment and future expansion in services, water use efficient initiatives should be supported and rewarded through financial incentives. If developed as part of a cost-effective strategic plan, economic incentives can become investments with a high potential for gaining both cost and water savings in the medium to long term.


  • Continue to provide provincial grants with added encouragements to adopt water use efficiency measures, such as:
    • Implementation of water audit and leak detection programs;
    • Universal metering and conservation-oriented pricing structures; and
    • Accurate records of water consumption and water quality over a period of years (lead: Ministry of Municipal Affairs (now Ministry of Community Services)).
  • Consider financial incentives, such as low interest or forgivable loans, tax credits and rebates to install water use efficient devices (lead: local governments, utilities, federal government, and provincial government).
  • Support the continuation of the Federal, Provincial and Local Government Infrastructure Funding Program to promote the efficient use of water (lead: local, provincial and federal governments).

4.4 Communicate and Educate

Most British Columbians realize the importance of water in their lives. However, many are unaware of the benefits of efficient water use and require information on how to achieve efficient water use. The following strategic directions are aimed at enhancing awareness, understanding and actions in water stewardship, water use efficiency and water resource values, and promoting life long water conservation behaviour. Initial target audiences will include educators, school children, community groups, water managers, purveyors, elected local government officials and community leaders. Additional audiences may include key business sectors and the media.


School and Community Education Programs

The Ministry of Environment already has a variety of educational materials and programs. MELP is encouraged to continue their education programs and work with the ministries of Education and Advanced Education; Training and Technology; local governments, the B.C. Water and Waste Association and community based organizations. Many local governments also support local school programs through presentations, tours, information brochures, contests and scholarships. They are encouraged to continue and expand their programs.


  • Enhance and expand provincial environmental education programs to include water use efficiency topics (lead: Ministry of Environment, local governments).
  • Support local water education programs through summer employment and volunteer programs (lead: Ministry of Environment).


Seminars and Guides for Utilities and Licensees

Water managers, purveyors, local councillors, community user groups and individual water licence holders need good information to make sound water conservation decisions.


  • Develop presentations, seminars and workshops to introduce the Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia, share information, ideas and successes (lead: BCWWA).
  • Consideration should be given to a series of "How To" guides and related materials on water audits and specific water use efficiency measures for water licensees, industries, private utilities and local governments (lead: Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Food (now Ministry of Agriculture and Lands), and B.C. Water and Waste Association).
  • Consider "Water Efficiency in the Workplace" educational materials for specific industrial, commercial and institutional water users (lead: Ministry of Environment and B.C. Water and Waste Association).


Social Marketing

Technically sound, cost-effective programs can often fail if pertinent information doesn't reach the right audience. With few exceptions, a communication or social marketing strategy should be an integral part of any water use efficiency program.

Many water use efficiency programs are voluntary measures. Therefore, they rely on market acceptance and individual actions. Information alone doesn't necessarily lead directly to action, but action cannot be taken without adequate information on what to do, how to do it and why it should be done. Even mandatory programs, such as watering restrictions, will not be successful if people are unaware of the program.

Reporting results of water use efficiency measures is also very important. Regular reporting helps to maintain interest in water issues and increase public support. Keeping people appraised of successes, failures and subsequent improvements will also help build a supportive constituency for the next water use efficiency initiative.

Informing people requires an organized and concerted effort. One-time general announcements or broadcasts will often result in scattered and scanty information.


  • Develop social marketing strategies to support water use efficiency initiatives and convey important messages to water users (lead: all water management agencies). To maximize success, keep the following points in mind:
    • Target your audience;
    • Use a variety of media, including community connectors such as local organizations;
    • Communicate often to reach both early and late adopters;
    • Actively engage people; and
    • Be open and responsive to your audience's problems, questions, observations and suggestions.

4.5 Encourage Market Development and Innovation

The Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia recognizes the role of innovation in bringing about change. Many of the initiatives presented in Appendix 2 and practiced throughout the province have stemmed from innovative ideas that didn't exist ten or twenty years ago.

Many new innovations and practices may broaden the notion of water use efficiency as it currently stands in British Columbia. For example, toilet tanks with built in hand basins which drain to the tank have been used in Japan for many years. Measures to increase precipitation in a water basin have been explored in drier areas of the world, as have measures to decrease evaporation, transpiration, and losses to groundwater seepage or water running off the land. These ideas and other unimagined ones may provide solutions in the future.


Market Development and Innovation

In coming years many innovations in the forms of technological invention, creative planning methods, landscape designs and other new ideas will arise to advance water use efficiency. Existing innovations utilized in other places may also be successfully adopted in British Columbia as the need arises or techniques and tools become available in the province.

This Strategy supports the principle, the need and the value of innovation and encourages all water purveyors, drawers and users to explore alternatives and innovations that can lead to greater water use efficiency.


  • Convene a sub-committee of the B.C. Water Conservation Strategy Working Group to explore options, disseminate information and encourage innovative technology (lead: BC Hydro, Capital Regional District Water). Possible activities include:
    • Collaboration with post-secondary institutions to conduct research and develop training programs;
    • Collaboration with industry and trades associations on market development for water use efficient devices and services;
    • Assessment of innovative market mechanisms such as cap and trade systems where water savings from retrofits may be applied to new developments, resulting in no net change in total service area water use; and
    • Analysis of financial incentives / disincentives and potential partnerships to encourage market development for proven technologies (e.g. front loading washing machines).