B.C. drought woes spur call for universal water metering

Click to play video: 'Universal water-metering needed in B.C. to manage climate change impacts say experts'
Universal water-metering needed in B.C. to manage climate change impacts say experts
Experts are calling for faster implementation of a universal water-metering program in B.C. in order to better manage the impacts of climate change. Kylie Stanton reports. – Mar 6, 2024

With another year of anticipated drought conditions bearing down on British Columbia, some experts say it’s time for universal water metering to be implemented provincewide.

Despite recent rain and snow, data from the federal government found most of the Pacific region was under drought conditions as of the end of February, while the latest snowpack monitoring shows much of B.C. well below average.

“Any advanced society should actually account for water in the proper manner, and the only way to do that is metering it,” said Hans Schreier, professor emeritus of land and water systems at UBC.

Click to play video: '‘Be prepared’: Western Canada braces for difficult drought season'
‘Be prepared’: Western Canada braces for difficult drought season

Schrier said research has shown that the implementation of water metering in other jurisdictions resulted in a drop in water use of about 20 per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

“The public is still under the impression that there is no water problem in Vancouver,” he said, pointing to our typically rainy winters.

But with increasingly dry summers and limited capacity to expand the region’s reservoirs, he said the public will need to come to terms with limiting use in the years to come.

“We have not valued water sufficiently, and the time has come to start to become realistic that we have been spoiled and things are changing and they are changing very quickly.”

Click to play video: 'Drought management workshops offered for B.C. farmers'
Drought management workshops offered for B.C. farmers

According to Metro Vancouver, residents of the region use about 270 litres each per day, a number that surges to about 450 litres when commercial uses are factored in. The region as a whole consumes close to a billion litres daily.

The B.C. government earmarked $50 million for water metering pilot projects in 21 communities, which would bring them in line with cities like Victoria and West Vancouver that already use water metering systems.

Story continues below advertisement

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Nathan Cullen said.

“And our ability to actually tackle this means that we have to set up programs that municipalities can use and inform their own citizens so that we’re all taking part in the solution.”

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver storing water earlier than normal due to low snowpack levels'
Metro Vancouver storing water earlier than normal due to low snowpack levels

Currently, only a handful of B.C. municipalities have water meters for homes and multi-family buildings, typically in new builds.

Schrier said the province would be better served by bringing meters in universally so as not to end up with a patchwork of technology down the road.

Madjid Mohseni, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, said that while metering could help reduce water use, B.C. should also be looking at how to reduce water waste.

Story continues below advertisement

“Nearly 75 per cent of the water that goes into our home comes out as wastewater,” he said.

“So if you are able to at least utilize some part of it, it is going to come in handy, particularly when we have a shortage of water.”

Click to play video: 'Record low snowpack levels raise summer drought concerns'
Record low snowpack levels raise summer drought concerns

Mohseni said the technology already exists to treat wastewater to drinking quality, but that it’s even cheaper to treat it for recreational or industrial use.

He said there’s no reason reclaimed water shouldn’t be used to water lawns or control dust on worksites.

“Currently we use treated drinking water which is a precious commodity when it comes to summer months,” he said.

Schrier said any push to expand water metering may not be popular with the public, given cost pressures people are already facing.

Story continues below advertisement

But he said in the face of persistent drought and a changing climate, it’s time to “bite the bullet” to reduce use.

“If you don’t have water, you’re in trouble,” he said.

Sponsored content