B.C. wa­ter use tar­get in sight

Con­sump­tion rate has fallen 18 per cent since 2009

Vancouver Sun - - WESTCOAST NEWS - RANDY SHORE rshore@post­media.com

B.C. is on pace to re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion 33 per cent by 2020, a key goal of the Wa­ter Sus­tain­abil­ity Act that came into force on Mon­day.

To­tal wa­ter use — in­clud­ing res­i­den­tial, in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural con­sumers — is down 18 per cent since 2009, from an av­er­age of 606 litres per per­son per day to 494, ac­cord­ing to re­search led by Jordi Honey-Rosés, a pro­fes­sor in the School of Com­mu­nity and Re­gional Plan­ning at the Univer­sity of B.C.

Res­i­den­tial wa­ter use is down only 12 per cent, ac­cord­ing to sur­vey data cov­er­ing about 66 per cent of B.C. res­i­dents.

“The good news is that wa­ter use is de­clin­ing,” said Honey-Rosés. “The jury is still out on whether that de­crease is due to pol­icy changes such as wa­ter me­ter­ing or other fac­tors such as ur­ban den­si­fi­ca­tion, where we are pack­ing in more peo­ple who don’t have any out­door wa­ter use.”

Wa­ter me­ters are an es­sen­tial tool for wise wa­ter man­age­ment, al­low­ing gov­ern­ments to charge con­sumers based on use, eval­u­ate the im­pact of pol­icy, and iden­tify leaks, he said. But it’s not clear that me­ters lead to lower con­sump­tion at the prices charged to con­sumers in B.C.

About one-third of B.C. sin­gle-fam­ily homes have me­tered wa­ter, half the Cana­dian av­er­age of 72 per cent. Fewer than one in five multi-fam­ily dwellings are me­tered in B.C.

But the data from all 44 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the sur­vey found there is lit­tle dif­fer­ence in wa­ter con­sump­tion be­tween me­tered and un­metered homes, and lit­tle dif­fer­ence in price. Me­tered users would pay on av­er­age $418 per year for typ­i­cal house­hold con­sump­tion, while homes charged a flat rate for wa­ter pay $381.

In coun­tries where uni­ver­sal me­ter­ing and wa­ter pric­ing have been ef­fec­tive at curb­ing con­sump­tion, res­i­dents may pay sev­eral times the amount typ­i­cally charged to Bri­tish Columbians.

How­ever, when con­sumers are of­fered the in­cen­tive of a lower wa­ter bill through me­ter­ing — such as the vol­un­tary me­ter­ing pro­gram op­er­ated by the City of Sur­rey — con­sump­tion in sin­gle­fam­ily homes drops 30 to 40 per cent.

In high-den­sity com­mu­ni­ties, me­ter­ing re­duces con­sump­tion less, by 10 to 20 per cent.

Metro Van­cou­ver should be very cau­tious about any move to uni­ver­sal me­ter­ing and wa­ter pric­ing, said Dar­rell Mus­satto, mayor of the City of North Van­cou­ver and chair­man of the re­gional district’s util­i­ties com­mit­tee.

“Metro spends $250 mil­lion on wa­ter ser­vices and less than one half of one per cent is spent on wa­ter, the rest is spent on in­fra­struc­ture and debt ser­vic­ing,” said Mus­satto. “Wa­ter me­ters won’t change that.”

Me­ters are the high­est-cost way to ef­fect be­havioural change, cost­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, he ar­gued. “Is that the best use of our money?”

Metro Van­cou­ver’s wa­ter sup­ply can re­main vi­able even in the face of cli­mate change for decades to come, by chang­ing how we con­sume wa­ter.

“Last year, we went four months with­out any mea­sur­able rain­fall, it was like noth­ing we had seen be­fore,” he said. “But peo­ple re­sponded to Stage Three wa­ter­ing re­stric­tions very pos­i­tively, we met our (wa­ter con­sump­tion goal), and peo­ple made the dif­fer­ence.”

Metro Van­cou­ver is launch­ing a study to de­ter­mine whether a busi­ness case can be made for me­ter­ing.

“There may be other ways to re­duce con­sump­tion that are a lot cheaper,” he said.

Mus­satto and Honey-Rosés are key pre­sen­ters at a drought pre­pared­ness work­shop to­day at UBC.

ROY AN­TAL/REGINA LEADER-POST FILES

About a third of B.C. sin­gle-fam­ily homes have me­tered wa­ter, half the Cana­dian av­er­age of 72 per cent. Sur­vey data shows there is lit­tle dif­fer­ence in wa­ter con­sump­tion be­tween me­tered and un­metered homes.

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