Tofino is looking to simplify its Water Conservation Bylaw and motivate its largest users to limit their flows.
The district is currently under Stage 1 Water Restrictions and, regardless of rainfall, these restrictions are expected to remain in place all summer to keep conservation on the minds of locals.
Under the district’s current bylaw, Stage 1 immediately kicks in once two weeks go by without rain anytime between May 15 and Oct. 15 but Tofino CAO Bob MacPherson is proposing a new bylaw that would see Stage 1 automatically take effect on May 1 every year.
MacPherson presented his proposed new Water Conservation Bylaw during June 24’s regular council meeting.
He said Tofino has done well to find “low hanging fruit” in terms of educational measures that motivate locals to use less water and that the community’s water consumption has dropped by 2.4 per cent per capita since 2010.
“The thing that I like to say to people is, ‘If the reservoirs were the right size when we built them a few years ago, they still are the right size now,” he said.
He said the district hopes to reduce its water usage further by working with its largest users.
“Accommodation and commercial users combined make up 38 per cent of our consumption and that’s the direction we want to focus in over the next little while,” he said.
“Looking at targeted measures directed toward commercial, industrial and institutional sectors particularly the idea of water audits for both accommodation providers or restaurants as well as seeing if we can do a water audit for what I believe is our biggest customer; a fish plant.”
He added the district’s own non-revenue water would also be put under a microscope.
“The non revenue water is a little bit beyond what we wish it was…As a municipality, we need to get our house a little bit better in order in understanding where that is and see if there’s some things that we can do to use less water ourselves,” he said.
“Non revenue water includes water lost but also our showers, this building [district office], [and] our public bathrooms. We want to better understand where that water is and see how it’s being used and if there are ways that we could encourage it to be used more efficiently.”
He added educational tools would help the residential sector’s consumption drop further.
“I believe that continuing to improve communications and work with the community in education will have the biggest deterrent,” he said.
MacPherson said his proposed new water conservation bylaw would improve the district’s educational approach by using simpler, more direct language.
“We’ve taken some of the non-enforcement, operational and just nice ideas out of the bylaw and really just focused on what’s permitted during the four possible stages,” he said.
He added Stage 4 currently contains an automatic state of emergency that he felt did not belong in a bylaw and that, should Stage 4 occur, the district would open its Emergency Operations Centre to maneuver through the crisis.
“Those are decisions that, I think, should be made in the time of that moment, rather than to say it should be embedded in the bylaw,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson asked if the district had any plans to encourage locals to collect rainwater.
MacPherson said a rain barrel idea was a good one but would be more effective as part of an educational campaign as opposed to a policy.
“If we could find a way for it not to cost too much, we could do it as an education program so that it gets that ongoing education where, as you’re drawing water out of your rain barrel, you’re thinking of water being a precious resource,” he said.
“It’s not an idea that’s fallen off the table, it’s just not an initiative that, on a single family residential basis, is likely going to have a big impact on the amount of water we use as a community by itself. But, we think, there’s probably an opportunity to be found to use it as an education tool.”
He added it is not difficult to convince Tofitians to conserve because locals still remember the 2006 water crisis.
“People are pretty motivated in this town to reduce on the demand side because of the concern of what the outcomes could be, and what it could mean to them, if we did have a water shortage like this community had in 2006,” he said. “Those conversations come pretty easily, as it turns out, in Tofino much more than most places. People have good memories here.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke was disappointed that MacPherson’s report did not touch on water capacity, which she believes the community might run out of as it continues to grow.
She said council needs more information before being asked to allow new commercial developments that could put a halt on any residential development if water capacity runs out.
“In the next six months to a year, we’re going to be faced with some fairly significant requests for development…I need the tools in my toolbox to make good decisions on behalf of the community and that’s where this report falls short,” she said.
“How does this help me make good decisions as a councillor when these big developments come down?”
MacPherson said his report was not the tool Thicke was looking for.
“The challenge that we have in giving you the answer that you want as a councillor to help you make those kinds of decisions that you’re talking about it is, we just don’t have good data,” he said. “We can model future demand pretty well; what we don’t have good data for is the flows that are in the four creeks that supply our water system right now.”
Thicke repeated that council needs more information before making decisions on upcoming projects that she believes are en route in abundance.
“There’s a gap in my knowledge and understanding there when I’m faced with making tough decisions on behalf of the community,” she said. “That’s a pretty significant gap and I don’t have any more knowledge or understanding from the report to guide me in those future decisions.”
MacPherson suggested it was unrealistic to expect Tofino’s growth to rapidly increase overnight.
“What gives me comfort is, it’s very difficult for communities to be growing along at 1.5 to 2 per cent and then suddenly grow at 10 per cent,” he said. “The amount of water that we’re having to supply has not changed, it’s stayed pretty flat, in spite of the growth that we’ve had as a community.”
He added there could come a point where demand can’t be reduced any further and district staff is investigating options to deal with that but suggested this point is likely several years off.
“My thesis, and I guess in five years you can flail my hide if I’m wrong, is that over the next five years, I think we can keep water demand pretty flat, in spite of a growing community by doing demand side reduction,” he said.
“That doesn’t answer the question of how much more is too much more but, bear in mind, Tofino has pre-zoned a lot of properties so those are very difficult questions to ask. Have we already, kind of, overshot the mark and at what point will we have to find more storage or more supply?”
He said staff would investigate other water sources over the next five years and suggested groundwater could be a viable option as well as increasing storage capacity at the district’s Meares Island reservoirs.
“We get lots of water. It’s a matter of getting through summer until we get those good rainfalls again in the fall that replenish and overwhelm the system,” he said.
Thicke cautioned a growth spike is on the imminent horizon.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne empathized with Thicke’s concerns but agreed with MacPherson that the water bylaw report was not the tool to tackle that concern. “Thank you for flagging it,” she said to Thicke. “I’m sure we all share your concerns. I concur with our CAO that this report can’t answer those questions.”