Lake Cowichan’s water conservation plan maintains household limits

Despite a cooler-than-expected summer so far, water is still a precious commodity at the lake,

Despite a cooler-than-expected summer so far, water is still a precious commodity at the lake, and the Town of Lake Cowichan recently adopted a water conservation plan to get the ball rolling when it comes to ensuring less of the wet stuff goes to waste. However, the document is still a work in progress and does not call for any change to the current usage limits on single family households.

On July 5, the town’s public works and environmental services committee discussed the water conservation plan and adopted it as a living document that can be revisited and changed over time.

The plan’s first goal is to use water resources “in an environmentally sustainable manner by limiting waste, increasing efficiency and conservation practices.” It seeks to reduce system operation costs everywhere possible, including treatment, distribution and sanitary treatment for outflow. It also aims to use water resources “in a socially responsible manner” and set an example of good stewardship for neighbouring communities.

Currently Lake Cowichan has the highest monthly threshold for homes in the Cowichan Valley.

Mayor Ross Forrest said while he does not advocate a lowering that threshold in the immediate future, he does think it needs to slowly be reduced.

“When we established the 35 cubic metre threshold it was to make it an easily obtainable goal for the consumers. Thirty-five is more than generous, as we all know now,” said mayor Ross Forrest. “Steps [should be] in place as time goes on so it’s a little bit less, a little bit less, so people are aware that 35 cubic metres isn’t a life-long given that that’s what they’re going to have. Because water’s getting more and more precious, we know that.”

According to the plan, in 2015 annual water usage per household in Lake Cowichan was 363 cubic metres — that means for about every seven houses in Lake Cowichan an Olympic-size swimming pool of water was used last year.

The conservation plan includes some quantitative targets: reducing that number to 323 cubic meters by 2020, and to 293 by 2035.

Chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said the town will need to collect more data before staff can present recommendations to council about changing the per-household monthly limits. The town has only been metering all houses since 2013.

(There are no fines for households exceeding the 35 cubic metres threshold, instead there is a pay-per-use billing method for those that go over.)

The challenge in getting an accurate understanding of the town’s overall water use is that many non-residential users — mostly commercial buildings with larger-sized connections — are not being monitored.

Nagy Rizk, superintendent of public works and engineering services, told the committee his department has no knowledge of any significant leaks in the system, but there is “non-revenue water usage,” such as when the fire department runs fire hydrants during their Monday night practices, that cannot be accounted for.

He said all buildings should be metered.

“The best approach is to meter everybody that we can meter, and we have not done that yet. We have businesses that are not metered. We have institutions that are not metered,” he said. “The downside to that is if you meter them you risk getting less revenue and a shortfall in your operational budget. So you’d have to adjust all the rates to reflect that shortfall.”

In an email to the Gazette, Fernandez explained some buildings are not metered because the grant funding the town received to meter all homes in Lake Cowichan did not cover building sizes beyond those used for residential purposes.

“All new buildings, however, are required to be metered,” he said.

The conservation actions listed in the plan include: continued water metering, continuation of the “low flow” toilet rebate program and continuation of the lawn sprinkling regulations.