Nfld. & Labrador

Small city, big problem: Why Corner Brook uses so much water

Twenty million litres of water is filtered at the treatment plant in Corner Brook every day, and city staff say that's too much.

Corner Brook consumes 20 million litres of water each day, and the city says that's way too much

The city of Corner Brook consumes 20 million litres of water per day. City staff say that's excessive, and they're encouraging residents to cut back. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Twenty million litres of water is filtered at Corner Brook's treatment plant every day — above average for the community's size, say city staff, who are urging residents to conserve.

Don Burden, the City of Corner Brook's director of public works, would like it if people ran their taps less often.

"Lets keep consumption to the absolute minimum," Burden said in an interview with CBC News.

Burden said the average resident of Corner Brook, which has a population of about 23,000 people, consumes more water than an average resident of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Let's keep the watering of lawns to a minimum," he said. "Let's keep a jug of water in the fridge instead of running the tap to get cold water. Run your washer full instead of half-loads. Try not wash your car more than once a week. Try and not wash down your driveway more than once a week. Every little bit helps." 

Don Burden, the city's director of public works with the City of Corner Brook, is asking residents to keep water use to the 'absolute minimum.' (Colleen Connors/CBC )

According to 2017 data from Statistics Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador's daily per capita water usage (including commercial and residential) is 792 litres per person per day — nearly twice the Canadian average of 427 litres per day. Corner Brook's usage is higher than the provincial average, and with the taxpayer footing the bill for treatment, the city wants to bring that number down.

"Our consumable costs is $150 for every million litres that we have to treat," said Burden. "The more water that gets used the more residents will have to pay."

The city budgets $3 million a year for its water treatment plant and water distribution. The plant came online in 2015 and filters sludgy organic matter out of water from Corner Brook Lake and sends clear drinking water to homes and businesses in Corner Brook, Mount Moriah and Massey Drive.

Let's keep consumption to the absolute minimum.- Don Burden

Before the water treatment plant began service, Burden said, water was only treated with chlorine before it was sent to the taps.

When the treatment plant came online, it was cleaning 30 million litres a day. But after several years of fixing old pipes and finding leaks, the city got that down to 20 million, a figure that includes residential and commercial use.

Burden is asking residents to cut back on how often they, for example, hose down their driveways, because the city's per capita water use is much higher than the Canadian average. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Mount Pearl, a city with the same population as Corner Brook, uses 12.5 million litres per day.

In St. John's, which has a year-round conservation order that dictates when residents can water their lawns, 70 million litres of water is used per day by a population of about 109,000. 

Why so much?

Glen Keeling — chair of the Western Environment Centre, a non-profit environmental group in the city — says there are two reasons people in Corner Brook use so much water: they believe there is unlimited water at Corner Brook Lake, and the city doesn't provide any economic incentive to use less water at home.

Taxpayers pay the same rate, whether they conserve water or not, he said.

"If your neighbour is out hosing off the snow in the springtime to melt it and you are going through the efforts to install a low-pressure shower head, you are both paying the same amount of money," Keeling said.

Keeling says the answer is not just conservation, but monitoring. Any house built after 2014 is fitted with a water meter, and city staff monitor these houses but don't charge for water consumption.

Glen Keeling, chair of the Western Environment Centre, says residents believe water is limitless in Corner Brook. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"Metering has been shown to reduce consumption by 25 per cent from non-metered versus metered homes. It allows people the ability to monitor their own consumption and take actions within their households to do something about that," he said.

Burden said while the city's public works department can't enforce water metering, he thinks it would be a good idea. For now, he said, city staff will focus on conservation education during the hot, dry summer months.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.

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