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29th September 2023
...Continued from Part 2

You can go and look online at the amount of water that people have licensed. For example, around Nanaimo, in the Cedar area, itís largely residential, thereís a few small businesses, the airport. Thereís the Harmac pulp mill. I did a study out there for the Regional District of Nanaimo back in the early 2000s and one of the things that came out is the fact that 90 per cent plus of the water usage in that area is that one facility, the pulp mill.

So you suddenly realize that there are some very big users of water out there, and thereís a limit to how much water is available in total, whether you have a very large number of people individually taking a small amount, or just a few large users. We have to plan for that.

Itís only really within the last decade or so that when weíre thinking about planning our communities, that weíve thought about ó can we support that, in terms of things like the water thatís available in the region? Iím not sure that thatís always front and center.

I sit on a technical advisory committee for the Regional District of Nanaimo. They have a drinking water and watershed protection program that is pretty proactive, and thereís a lot of people working together for a common aim, and they are starting to put in language whereby a new subdivision requires the assessment of these kinds of issues.

But itís still within a framework where ó do we actually really know how much water ultimately is available? In particular with global climate change, which is changing things all the time? I donít think if you had spoken to people a couple of years ago, they would have predicted having three major years of drought in a row. Generally speaking, the idea of a drought is that itís a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.

But now this is the new normal. I think a lot of water managers have a better idea that we have to manage proactively, but Iím not sure itís in the general public consciousness, maybe the idea that we have to be careful in summer.

In many cases, weíre really at a point where we have to be very careful that we donít allow too much development and over-allocate water to the point that thereís not enough. Because when we look at places like the American Southwest, thatís definitely whatís happened.

JC: So keeping in mind that there are some big users like Harmac that trump a lot of peopleís individual use ó what are some of the ways residents can adapt to these changes in water levels?

AG: I think individuals can make a difference. Just because there are some big users out there doesnít mean we shouldnít do something. Generally becoming more educated about your water use, if you have a water meter. The city reads it generally twice a year, and for most people, itís available under a little concrete cover. You can take it off and read it. I do it routinely, about once a month, so I have an idea of how much water my house is personally using. For example, if I was irrigating and there was a leak, it would indicate to me that my usage was very high.

Second thing is knowing more about where the water comes from. Thereís a lot of information out there. The province publishes a lot of real-time information on levels in rivers and groundwater wells, and if people have an idea of whatís going on they can take their concerns to their elected representatives and exercise their vote, so that people who are more concerned about water [conservation] can be placed in positions where theyíre making decisions.

Also thereís the concept out there of a carbon footprint, well thereís also a water footprint. For example, the growth of certain foods uses a lot more water than others. Having said that, I do think that we also have to look to provincial representatives, because theyíre the ones who ultimately are allocating and controlling access to the water. Theyíre the ones who have the jurisdiction. We need to keep an eye on what is happening there and make sure that scientists are being supported so we have the information to make rational decisions.