In the Cowichan Watershed, on Eastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, our climate is changing, so we are too.

Like much of the west coast of North America, we are seeing more intense winter rainstorms, less snowpack in spring, and drier summers.  Water shortages during summer and fall threaten much of what we care about here: salmon survival, local food growing, water quality, river-based recreation and our local economy.

The people of the Cowichan valley are stepping up to protect these values.  Read about our progress here (Media Release - World Water Day 2017)

The 20% Challenge (Launched July 2014).

The Cowichan Watershed Board is challenging everyone in the region... Lets reduce water use by at least 20%.

The Town of Ladysmith inspired the challenge. Between 2002 and 2013 the town reduced total water use from 1,700,000 m3 to 1,279,000m3, or approximately 25%, while the population grew by 20%, proving that big water savings are achievable.

In July 2014, "Water Woman" emerged in Duncan Town Square to personally encourage residents to take a pledge to save water. Since then she and other super-hero friends (Flo, Leaky Hoser and others) have been visiting children's camps and public events throughout the region to teach residents why using less water is wise, and how to fix a drip.

Ladysmith, Cowichan Valley Regional District, North Cowichan, Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Mill Bay WaterWorks, Cowichan Bay WaterWorks and Cowichan Tribes are all embracing water conservation. Through metering, fixing leaks, watering restrictions, public education, and more, they are working towards the Watershed Board's challenge to reduce annual average residential water consumption by 20% or more.

Results vary year to year and area by area. Overall reductions achieved since 2013  range from 3% (for areas that were relatively water efficient to start) to an impressive 17% reduction in three years.

A good downward trend in consumption is emerging despite the repeated droughts, but overall, we are still very high water users relative to the rest of the world, including developed nations. Many people point to the fact that Canadians pay less for our water than most other places, and so the incentive to save is less.

Lessons Learned So Far

One of the advantages of the challenge has been the opportunity to learn from the water operators from different water districts who work most closely with our water resources. Some of their observations and suggestions to reduce water demand are:

-          Landscaping: When new lawns and landscaping are planted in spring or summer, water demands are higher.  Timing plantings to take advantage of fall rains is preferable. This is particularly effective with large landscaping projects such as new housing developments. Planting with native drought-tolerant plants is also recommended.

-          Irrigation systems: Where people embrace micro-drip or rainwater irrigation systems with well-tuned timers, water demands are greatly reduced.

-          Water metering:  Global statistics show that when people pay more for using more water, they use less. For example, in Ladysmith, water operators estimate that the Town used an astounding 45% less water per capita in 2013 compared to 2002. 

-          Watering Restrictions: In 2015, owing to Stage 3 watering restrictions, significant water savings were seen across the region despite the severe drought. In particular neighbourhoods, including Chemainus (North Cowichan) and the Satellite Water System (CVRD), and Mill Bay, annual residential water use dropped by over 50% in one year. So while watering restrictions may be inconvenient, they do work to conserve water.  Note that in 2016, we didn’t go to Stage 3 and still saw modest declines in use in three of the five systems which is a great trend!  Ideally, water conservation should be a year-round habit with tools and technologies in place to maximize efficiencies.  

Why Save Water?

  1. Because we use more than our share.  According to the last Canadian statistics on municipal water systems (2011), average residential water consumption was 251 litres/person/day (LPD) which is among the highest rates in the world.  The 2016 Cowichan Region average according to reports received is 262 LPD – even higher than that Canadian average! By comparison, Germans use less than half as much water per person, at approximately 122 LPD. (2012 statistic)
  2. Because Vancouver Island droughts are becoming the norm. While many of us get our water from invisible underground sources, the low water levels we see above ground are a reflection of lower summer water flows throughout the region. Studies show that not all water sources are depleting, but some are, and it is unknown which will deplete next, or how quickly.  Mill Bay Waterworks District Administrator, Donna Michiel, points out that although we have had more snow and rainfall this winter, it won’t necessarily reverse the effects of recent consecutive years of drought, and replenish the aquifers in the short term as some may believe.
  3. Because we can!  Here are some changes we can to make, at multiple scales.
  • Embrace higher housing density. Tighter neighbourhoods with less lawn and landscaping reduce summer watering.
  • Use recycled water. Some of our parks use recycled water. For example, the toilets at Transfer Beach recycle water from the Spray Park.
  • Capture rainwater. Rain barrels are good but may be too small to make much of a difference in summers without intermittent rains, as is happening more. Invest in a larger rain water harvesting system if you can, of 1000L or more, to really catch enough rain to make a difference. Plants prefer rainwater too, so you get healthier gardens.  Lobby your local municipalities to require cisterns in new home construction.
  • Enjoy the summer tan. Let your lawn soak up the sun and turn brown for the season.
  • Plant only drought tolerant species. Our climate has changed – so must our gardens. 
  • Save up for a micro-drip system (one using less than 20 gallons per hour which operates at less than 25 psi to deliver water to the root zone of the plant material). They are so efficient that they are allowed to operate at any time of day for a maximum of 4 hours per day during water restriction stages 1, 2 and 3.  
  • Keep a dishpan in the sink to catch your rinse water and carry it out to replenish your rain barrel or water plants, or have a plumber install a greywater outlet directly from your kitchen sink to a watering tank.
  • It’s hip to fix a drip! Leaking toilets and hose connections waste water every second. In some cases fixing one leak can reduce a home’s water use by 20% in one simple step.

Contact us: jill@cowichanwatershedboard.ca

Website: www.cowichanwatershedboard.ca

Facebook: Water Woman - Cowichan Water Challenge and Cowichan Watershed Board






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Its Hip to Fix a Drip!
Pledge to Save Water