The District of Clearwater is considering more water conservation measures, including leak detection and water metering, to reduce “abnormally high” water use.
The move comes after a report found that on average, district residents use 55 per cent more water per capita than other communities their size in the B.C. Interior. The situation is exacerbated by the district’s high amount of aging infrastructure, which is experiencing leaks across the system.
A 2016 nighttime water assessment by TRUE consulting showed abnormally high water usage during times when most people are asleep. The leak detection survey of 66 per cent of the District’s water system found 26 areas to repair. Despite the district repairing many of the noted leaks, overnight water usage continues to be high.
“We also have basically double the infrastructure of a town with our population,” said Mayor Merlin Blackwell. “There’s a ridiculous number of kilometres of water line.”
The DOC already has annual water restrictions in place every May to September. Due to higher than normal temperatures this past summer, it also implemented “extraordinary” water restrictions, changing the hours for plant watering from four hours twice a day, to just two hours in the morning.
But as Clearwater continues to subdivide and add properties, and climate change brings more unpredictable storms, the district said more has to be done, particularly in reducing leaks.
Blackwell noted much of the district’s existing water line is asbestos concrete pipe, which isn’t dangerous, but is very brittle, which means there is a big potential for leaks. Much of Clearwater is also built on riverbed soil, which drains well but makes leak detection tough without the use of assessments or meters.
For instance, a water main broke recently on Young Road. While crews were on scene fixing the damage, another leak was detected right under the first that may not have been found had the main not broken, said Blackwell.
Leak detection is the first step in conserving town water and improving the system, he added.
“The cheapest way to supply water to people is not to drill more wells and create more infrastructure,” said Blackwell. “It’s to do water conservation. The easiest and most logical thing for water conservation is to find out where all your leaks are if you have leak problems.”
It’s also the cheapest ticket item on a long list of infrastructure projects for the district at $56,000. Once the leaks are assessed, Blackwell noted a logical next step would be water metres – not to charge people for water usage, but to know where it’s going.
During a presentation to council, Chris Crowell from TRUE consulting was asked by a councillor to pick one project to pursue.
“Leakage,” he said. “Cost wise it’s probably the most palatable, there’s no impact to roads and traffic.”
He noted the last assessment found numerous leaks and it can also help to answer questions and provide insight into other infrastructure projects.
Universal water metering, at a cost of just under $5.4 million, is the second most expensive item on the list. But, in the long run, it’s the most cost effective.
“The meter is for us,” said Blackwell. “The primary focal point of the meter is to find out where all the water’s going because it will save us money…If we can save $2 million on the next well project because we find out that there’s a leak going into your house, then that will pay for the cost of that meter.”
While on their radar, council has not fully discussed the implementation of water meters. However, they are a common trend across the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. In 2019, the TNRD began to install water meters in all eleven community water systems. The project was 100 per cent covered by grant funds.
The District of Barriere has had water meters since 2012. They were installed at no cost to homeowners, using funds obtained through the provincial government’s Towns for Tomorrow program.
While the addition of a well may add the needed increase in water service to residents in the short term, wells are very costly to install and maintain, said Blackwell. Government grants rarely cover the full cost for a well, but even just applying for funds for a new well project becomes a lot harder to do without a water conservation plan in place.
Clearwater’s leakage problem is making it difficult to get other work done. For example, the DOC recently applied for a grant to assist with an $8.7 million well sewer expansion project that ultimately was rejected. The District is unable to apply for that grant again until the water conservation plan is updated, Blackwell added.
“Think of it as insulating your house,” he explained. “If your doors and windows are open, it’s going to cost you more to heat your house. If I come around and say we’re going to do heat leak detection and find all the drafts in your house so you can keep your house warmer in the winter, that’s going to save you money on propane or wood.
“That’s the intention here, is to find leaks, stop them so that we’re not bleeding water, a.k.a. money, out there for no good reason.”