British Columbia

B.C. drought: Vancouver water restrictions a wake-up call for residents and politicians

As Metro Vancouver residents adapt to the harshest water restrictions imposed in 12 years, experts and officials warn it's time to get used to turning off the taps.

Recent rainfall across B.C. has barely made a dent in Metro Vancouver reservoir levels

(Amanda Marcotte/CBC)

As Metro Vancouver residents adapt to the harshest water restrictions imposed in 12 years, experts and officials warn it's time to get used to turning off the taps.

When asked how the province stacks up to other parts of the world in terms of water conservation, University of British Columbia watershed management professor Hans Schreier doesn't mince words.

"We're terrible, seriously," he says. "We're the second-biggest water users. We have never worried about water. We have terrible regulations."

Canada largest water consumer after U.S.

Canada is the second-largest water consumer in the world after the United States. Each Canadian uses about 350 litres of water a day, compared to a European who uses about 150 litres.

British Columbians have long been overusing and under-valuing water, Schreier says. New legislation to replace the 1909 Water Act is finally set to take effect next year and will regulate groundwater for the first time in the province.

"There are going to be more floods and more drought," he warns. "We should start thinking about adapting to these conditions."

This week, Metro Vancouver issued Stage 3 water restrictions for the first time since 2003, requiring residents to quit watering their lawns or face a $250 fine.

But Schreier says these restrictions should have been imposed earlier in the unusually hot, dry summer. Further, he says Metro Vancouver could be more innovative with water-saving technology and infrastructure.

For example, he says each resident should have a barrel to collect rain to water their gardens. He adds that low-flush toilets and so-called "purple pipes" that recycle water from sinks, baths and washing machines should be added to all old houses, not just new ones.

Water usage per capita decreasing

Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore says the region has been monitoring water for a century and this week marks only the second time it has had to impose Stage 3 restrictions.

"We haven't seen this type of drought and consumption of water in our history," says Moore, who is also mayor of Port Coquitlam, B.C.

While Metro Vancouver has cut its per capita water consumption by 23 per cent over the past 20 years, the region's population is also very rapidly growing, Moore adds.

"Our overall water usage is up, but luckily we're using less per person."

Rainfall Sunday helpful, but not enough

Rainfall along the B.C. coast Sunday morning hasn't put a dent into the region's drought conditions. 

"It's going to help us a little bit, but in terms of the big picture we need well over 140 to 150 millimetres of moisture to fall to make sure the reservoir is back to normal operating ranges," says Metro Vancouver Utilities Committee Chair Darrell Mussatto.

With files from CBC News