Phillips Reservoir south of Cranbrook. Townsman file photo.

City talks water meters, water supply, as Cranbrook use still high during drought

Cranbrook city council is musing a public conversation on water conservation that may include universal water metering following a summer with alarming drought conditions across the province.

The issue of water metering came up after mayor and council took in a presentation on the municipal water supply and asset management from a consultant during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 6).

Specifically, the recommendation from Urban Systems is that the city pursues a business case study to examine the anticipated cost of procuring and installing water meters along with the estimated water conservation it would provide, while also forecasting the impact on the city’s water system assets.

Committee of the Whole meetings are for discussions only; a decision was not made on moving forward with a process to study a potential future of universal water metering.

However, as the city looks to reduce water consumption, expect it to be part of the discourse.

A referendum on water metering in Cranbrook was soundly defeated in 2011.

Councillor Ron Popoff, citing climate change, the drought conditions over summer months, and the devastating wildfire season, noted there needs to be a public conversation about water conservation.

“The public in our community have to be sensitized to water consumption, so it’s perfect timing to get it out on the media, let them know, let our community know, that we’re way above national standards for water consumption,” Popoff said. “We have to start conserving and get those conversations going on in our community.”

Based on 2019 data from Statistics Canada, the national average daily total potable use per capita is 485 litres, while the same metric in British Columbia is 543 litres.

In Cranbrook, the daily per capita demand is estimated at 700 litres, according to the Urban Systems report.

Cranbrook is currently in Stage 3 watering restrictions — meaning residential water irrigation is allowed only one day a week — as significantly lower water levels at the Phillips Reservoir over the last two months have triggered escalating restrictions.

Moving through the various watering stages has been a new process, as the city bylaw that prompts water restriction responses was only established last year.

“I think the community was caught off guard a little bit with some aspects of the water restriction implementation and that’s partly becuase we’ve been fortunate enough to not have to do that very often but I think we can all see the likelihood and the frequency of that happening again in the future is there,” said Mike Matejka, Manager of Infrastructure Planning & Delivery for the City of Cranbrook.

Even through there was hot, dry summer last year, the Phillips Reservoir levels were mostly at full pool due to the snowpack over the 2021-22 winter. However, there was a different dynamic this summer as the 2022-203 snowpack was below average, while there also wasn’t a lot of precipitation in the preceeding fall months.

This year, it’s a different story as the Phillips Reservoir is approximately 1.5 metres below full pool (as of Sept. 6).

In August, the city was averaging roughly 13 million litres on waterless Wednesdays, the day when lawn irrigation is not permitted, as opposed to other days where lawn irrigation is allowed where water usage was up to 25 million litres.

But beyond the issue of recommending a study of potential universal water metering, the presentation from Urban Systems also laid out the city’s water system asset management plan, which studied the city’s current assets, future captial needs and risk mitigation of existing infrastructure.

High priority items in the queue include the replacement of the Gold Creek Dam and additional disinfection UV treatment system, both projects of which are going to run in the millions of dollars.

The report also outlines recommendations striking a delicate balance between the high prioritiy projects against the high fiscal impacts they carry, as the city will be on the hunt for grant opportunities to help finance those larger infrastructure items.

Non capital recommendations also included looking at water rates, and updating emergency response plans to protect against potential emergencies such as droughts or wildfire in the watershed.

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