GVRD faces tough water restrictions

Friday, April 30th, 2004

Hot, dry summer could mean a total ban on watering

William Boei

LOWER MAINLAND – Greater Vancouver residents may face the toughest-ever water-use restrictions this year as another hot, dry summer is expected to strain the region’s drinking-water supplies.

Water district officials are considering adopting a plan to tighten existing regulations and give the region the power to impose dramatic new measures that would ban virtually all outdoor uses of drinking water during a severe water shortage.

“This stage would only be required for the most extreme of situations,” says a water district staff report that outlines the draft Water Shortage Response Plan.

But it may come to that this year if the summer is as hot and dry as last year’s, said Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt, who chairs the boards of both the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the Greater Vancouver Water District.

The emergency stage would ban all lawn and garden watering, including commercial gardens and turf farms; stop watering of artificial turf, playing fields, parks, cemetery lawns and golf courses; shut commercial car washes; prohibit refilling of private swimming pools, and shut public pools, water-play parks and fountains.

“Yeah, there’s an awful lot of stuff in there that is really, really tough,” Hunt said Thursday.

“But if we find ourselves in that same position again as we did last year with the consumption of water, we’re going to be there.”

The Greater Vancouver Water District’s board is meeting today to consider setting up a public consultation process for the plan, possibly including a public meeting in May to hear from delegations.

The revised plan was commissioned last year after unusually dry weather in summer and early fall forced the district to ban lawn-watering completely and keep a high level of restrictions in effect until seasonal rains finally arrived in October.

There are signs of similar conditions this year. With only sunshine in the forecast for today, this month is expected to be the region’s second-sunniest and third-driest April on record.

By midnight tonight, Vancouver will have had about 251 hours of sunshine, second only to April 1951’s remarkable 294.1 hours. This month’s 14 millimetres of precipitation compares with 13 millimetres in 1973 and 13.7 in 1956.

The long-term outlook is for a drier and slightly warmer summer than normal, Environment Canada said Thursday.

The water district adopted the current shortage response plan in 1993, when population growth and limited storage capacity first presented the prospect of shortages.

It requested a staff review after last summer, when a tight water supply and high warm-weather water usage forced the district to impose the most strenuous restrictions yet.

Hunt said the problem is not so much a shortage of water as a shortage of water storage capacity. The district has three reservoirs and two small lakes in several watersheds in the North Shore mountains for drinking water storage. It has restricted access to only the largest, the Coquitlam reservoir.

“We get lots of rain here, but we just haven’t the capacity to store it up there,” Hunt said. “So we have to make sure that what is there is going to last us through the summer until sometime in October, when we usually get the rains coming again.”

The water district is also working on longer-term plans to solve the problem, Hunt said.

It is trying to encourage individual municipalities to adopt water metering and other measures to reduce use, and is urging municipalities and the provincial government to consider building code changes such as requiring toilet tanks that use less water.

“Really, we use an awful lot of water compared to the rest of the world,” Hunt said.

As well, the district is in long-term talks to get access to a larger share of the Coquitlam reservoir, most of which is controlled by BC Hydro. “We are in negotiations with BC Hydro over that,” Hunt said. “It’s got a number of layers of process to go through.”

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Greater Vancouver‘s proposed new Water Shortage Response Plan calls for escalating stages of action. Each successive stage includes all measures from the previous one.


When: June 1 to Sept. 30 or longer

Lawn sprinkling: Restricted to early-morning and evening hours two days a week.

Car and boat washing: Only with hoses that have spring-loaded shut-off valves.

Cemetery lawns, artificial turf and outdoor tracks, municipal lawns and boulevards: Limited watering.

Routine municipal hydrant flushing: None.


When: As needed

Lawn sprinkling: One day a week.

Water play parks: Some shut off.

Public and commercial fountains and water features: All shut down.

Sidewalk and driveway washing and pressure-washing: Banned except for health and safety reasons.

Cemeteries, etc.: More restrictions.


When: As needed

Lawn sprinkling: Totally prohibited.

Flower and vegetable gardens, shrubs and trees: Watering only by hand.

Golf courses, etc.: Watering cranked down to minimum levels.

Water play parks: Most shut down.

Private pools, spas and garden ponds: No refilling.

Outdoor car or boat washing: None — except for windows and lights.


When: As needed

Watering: None of any kind, including commercial flower and vegetable gardens.

Commercial car washes: Shut down.

Water play parks: All shut down.

Municipal outdoor pools: All closed.

Watering of any kind using drinking water at turf farms, golf courses, municipal lawns, etc.: None.

NOTE: None of these restrictions apply to watering with rain water, “grey” water, other forms of recycled water, or other sources of water besides regional district drinking water.

Source: GVRD Frank Myrskog, Vancouver Sun

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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