British Columbia

Fraser River a possible future water source, says UBC professor

The region says it is a potential option while one scientist says it could double the amount of water currently available.

Region to grow by 35,000 people each year as dryer, warmer conditions expected to continue

UBC professor Mark Johnson says the Fraser River could become a new source of drinking water for Metro Vancouver. (CBC)

Stage 1 water restrictions are already in place in Metro Vancouver, after last year's drought conditions took the region all the way to Stage 3, the first time since 2003.

"Rain-couver didn't happen last summer and it probably won't this summer," said Inder Singh, who is the director of policy and planning for water services with Metro Vancouver, which has put restrictions in place two weeks early this year compared to last.

"A wake up call is always good, complacency can set in especially when you have a region which does have lots of rainfall," he said.

Administrators like Singh and politicians within local governments are looking to manage what could be a new, dryer normal for Vancouver along with the forecast of another million people expected to be living in the region in 25 years.

Fraser River for drinking water?

"If we were to consider using the Fraser River as a supplement to our existing water supply we could effectively double the amount of water available," said Mark Johnson, a UBC professor who studies ecohydrology.

To do that though, Johnson says it would cost a billion dollars or more to build the infrastructure needed to tap into the iconic B.C. river, but the payoff could be worth it as Metro Vancouver's current three reservoirs — Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam — have a current maximum of 300 billion litres, or about one day of flow of the Fraser River in August.

The dam at the Capilano Reservoir in Metro Vancouver is running fast as the snow pack from local mountains is at 60 per cent of 'normal.' (CBC)

"If we do think about additional supply, the Fraser River is definitely on the table for consideration, only for minor withdrawals," said Johnson. "Something in the one per cent range, which wouldn't affect ecological processes."

And Metro Vancouver doesn't appear to be ruling out the idea, which could be necessary by the end of the century.

"Our focus is ... on the existing reservoirs, the next increment will come from the Coquitlam source and areas like the Fraser River are potential long term options as well," said Singh, who added that the region could also bring in more water from lakes in the existing watersheds. 

Inder Singh is a director with Metro Vancouver in charge of planning for water use. He says dryer conditions and population growth will require the region to adapt. (CBC)

Plans are underway to install a second intake for the Coquitlam Reservoir and add treatment and transmission facilities to go along with that.

In the short term, Metro Vancouver is very interested in gains that can be made by encouraging residents to conserve water.

Options for that include water metering, and even heavier fines for breaking bylaws. Singh said average water use per person, per day in Metro Vancouver is 340 litres.

with files from Deborah Goble.