....continued from Part 1
It’s interesting to note, though, that having a deep water intake alone will not solve our turbidity problems. That’s why the CVRD has decided to include filtration as part of the new treatment process. “Some people think that the deep water intake will solve our turbidity issues. It won’t,” says Herschmiller. “In fact, had we had the deep water intake, the 47 day water advisory event of last year would have lasted two additional weeks.” The new intake/filtration system is due to be completed in 2019.
So unfortunately, until the new filtration plant is built, local residents can expect more boil water advisories. Safford doesn’t feel that money spent on a filtration plant is money well spent. “The money could be better spent to actually buy the watershed,” she says. “We believe that water source protection is more effective than water filtration.”
Like many people, Safford believes that the turbidity is directly related to logging activity in the watershed. “The primary reason for turbidity is the logging practices. We are not opposed to logging activity as a whole, but we are opposed to the scale to which it is occurring.”
However, Jenssen believes that solely blaming the logging companies for our water woes could be foolhardy. “There is too much focus on blaming the logging companies. That’s really dangerous. What if we are overlooking something? We need to expand the possibilities and take as many steps as possible to protect our watershed.”
Climate change is one risk that we can see and measure. In fact, climate scientists are predicting that this coming summer will be another unseasonably warm season. Already changes are visible. For example, creeks that are normally still flowing at this time of year have already run dry—and it’s not even summer yet.
Last year the Province issued a level four drought rating for all of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. A level four is the highest rating possible and means an area’s water supply is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the population or the ecosystem. This was the first time a level four drought rating had ever been declared.
Climate change is also changing the way precipitation falls. “The last two years have seen unprecedented rainfall in a short amount of time,” says Herschmiller. “These intense bursts of rain wreck havoc.” Specifically, large rainfalls such as we’ve seen the last two winters cause damage to the creek beds and create massive amounts of turbidity in the lake.
So we are looking at higher than average rainfall during the winter, yet hot and dry summers. It seems we have a new weather reality where abnormal is the new normal. Yet we are not used to such weather, so how do we respond? Whatever the response it is clear that conserving and protecting our water source is more important than ever.
One way to conserve water is for individuals to become aware of exactly how much water they use. This is achievable by installing municipal water meters. The Village of Cumberland and the Regional District service area successfully installed water meters several years ago as a way to help the citizens conserve water, and it has been a success. As well, the town of Comox is making great progress installing voluntary residential meters. At this point approximately 50 to 60 per cent of Comox residences have been metered, and the early data is showing promising results.
Herschmiller notes another benefit of meters: “I worked in West Vancouver when meters were installed, and we found literally hundreds of existing water leaks. These leaks were at the foundation level of the houses, so there was no way to know they even existed until we installed the meters.”
But water metering is a contentious issue. Many politicians and citizens get hot around the collar as soon as the topic is broached. As a result, British Columbia lags far behind the rest of Canada when it comes to water metering, with less than 40 per cent of homes using a water meter. Many opponents argue that the benefits are not enough to cover the substantial cost of installation. However most water experts agree that water metering, if there is an incentive to save money with less use, will lower household consumption by 30 to 50 per cent.
The decision makers in charge of Courtenay are digging in their heels at the thought of installing actual meters. Instead, Courtenay is only installing meter setters at all new builds and major renovations. Installing the setters makes it easier to install actual meters in the future.
Metering or no metering, there are steps we can take to conserve water. Some steps are simple and inexpensive to do, such as adhering to the watering restrictions, fixing leaky taps, and washing our cars with a bucket of water instead of a hose. Every day we need to ask ourselves if we as individuals are managing our precious resource responsibly.
In the meantime, officials and volunteers are doing what they can to create meaningful strategies that can help us better manage our watershed. In fact, on April 12, 2016 the Comox Valley water committee adopted a binding document called the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan (WPP). The WPP contains 54 strategies that will be implemented over the next few years, all of which are necessary to protect our water—for ourselves and for future generations. Many of the steps are overarching and significant. For example, one strategy is the purchase of properties in the watershed if they become available. The WPP is due to be released to the public this summer and implementation will be part of the CVRD’s annual budgeting process.
Those who work to protect and manage our unique watershed have their hands full. However, they are fully aware of the risks to our watershed, as well as the importance of clean drinking water. Every time we turn on the tap and clean water flows is a time to be grateful.
“Water touches everything in every direction,” says Jenssen. “We can’t clean, can’t eat, can’t drive our cars even, as water is used in the production of everything. We simply can’t live without it. There is an expectation that we will just turn on the tap and clean water we can trust will flow out of the tap. However, it’s a very complicated process just to get that water there. It takes a lot of work and those who do that work are unsung heroes.”
For a comprehensive list of 100 ways to conserve water, visit wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve
To learn about the CVRD’s plans to protect our water source visit comoxvalleyrd.ca/EN/main/departments/water-services/watershed-protection
The Comox Valley Conservation Strategy is a document worth reading. cvconservationstrategy.org/strategy
The Comox Valley Water Watch Coalition is seeking members to help them do their valuable work. For more information visit comoxvalleywaterwatch.blogspot.ca
For a time lapsed visual of the effects of logging around Comox Lake go to world.time.com/timelapse2/ and enter the words ‘Comox Lake’http://www.infocusmagazine.ca/2016/the-value-of-water/