Community Classroom

Doing your part to save water during a drought

A parched, drought landscape

Geography Professor Dr. Alan Gilchrist’s tips

Drought levels in many areas of British Columbia are at the most severe end of the provincial five-point scale and have been since mid-July. BC Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma urges British Columbians to conserve water as the province also battles the worst wildfire season on record.

With more hot summer weather (and little rain) in the forecast, we asked VIU Geography Professor Dr. Alan Gilchrist to share insights into the situation as well as a few tips. Gilchrist, a Professional Geoscientist, has a long-standing interest in studying water, both as an agent of erosion and as a precious resource that needs careful management. Here’s our interview with him:

First, tell us the good news.

There’s been talk of trying to be more efficient with our water use for so many years, and municipalities track this. And if you look at different municipalities around Vancouver Island, water consumption per person per day has dropped significantly over the last 10 to 20 years. In Nanaimo, it’s dropped from around about 250 L per person per day down to around about 200 L. That is a very significant saving. Part of this is that we now have more high-efficiency appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers that use less water.

Do we still have to worry then?

The climate is changing due to human greenhouse gas emissions, with hotter temperatures and less rain during summer here on Vancouver Island. This will lead to drought conditions more often and increase the risk of wildfires, which is becoming the new normal that we are going to have to live with.

Last fall we had a situation on Mount Washington where they had a real problem with their water supply as the spring supplying the resort was slow to recover after the summer low. People may remember back in 2006, Tofino had to completely close for a short period of time because they basically ran out of water and had to truck in water from Ucluelet.

And those are the sorts of things that we’re going to start seeing more frequently – a decrease in the summer water supply and restrictions on what we can do. So, if all of us collectively can make a small difference on the demand that we place on the water supply, then hopefully we can help maintain access to water so we don’t absolutely have changes which could impact people’s holidays, for example.

So, what can the average person do?

Each of us uses water many times a day and can make conscious decisions to lower our water use. Although the individual savings may be small, collectively we can significantly lower water use. Here are a few ways to make a difference:

  • Change your garden watering practices: The single biggest water use in summer for most people is often garden irrigation. This typically more than doubles household water use in summer. The key is to water only when necessary to maintain healthy plants. If you have an irrigation system, drip rather than broadcast irrigation uses water more efficiently. Drip irrigation supplies water directly to each plant. Another area where you can make a difference is by ensuring you’re not overwatering your garden by adjusting the watering time to reflect the weather. I think all of us have seen a situation where it’s raining out and someone’s irrigation system still came on.Grass doesn’t need to be watered in summer, it will go brown during drought but will green up in the fall when the rains return.
  • Choose drought-resistant plants: I think that a lot of people are looking at that now. And we are seeing a movement towards planting native species that are naturally drought tolerant so that irrigation needs are lower.
  • Take shorter showers rather than a bath: One of the things that is often recommended is to take shorter showers and avoid having a bath. If everybody took shorter showers, then collectively that ends up being a large amount of water.
  • Run water appliances only when full: Dishwashers and washing machines generally use less water and energy if they are run when full rather than half empty.
  • Avoid washing cars, driveways and house exteriors: When there are watering restrictions in force, wash your car at a car wash that recycles water, or wait until the restrictions end.

Collectively we can all make a difference to lower overall water use in times of drought. An additional benefit is that households with a metered water bill will see it lowered, saving them money.


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