This morning I was enjoying my daily commute to work – a seven-minute stroll through a quiet wooded area – when I noticed something that set off alarm bells. Today, in mid-May, the stream running through this little forest was at levels usually seen in early July. Right now, the snow pack in this region is only 15% of what’s considered normal. Having witnessed one of the immediate effects, I felt prompted to say a few words about the need to be water-wise.
Living as we do in a rainforest, denizens of the West Coast tend to think about water as an abundant commodity. Some jurisdictions – notably the Capital Regional District, Nanaimo and many of the Gulf Islands – have implemented information campaigns promoting careful stewardship of water resources. We’re beginning to see the emergence of a water-smart culture with downward trends in usage rates, but most of us are slow to change our ways.
Clearly, it’s time to talk more seriously about water conservation. Many people are already on-board with such indoor strategies as low-flow plumbing, or taking showers instead of baths. This is a big step in the right direction; however, a lot of water waste happens outside the home – such as when we wash our vehicles with potable water. Maybe a dirty car should be seen as an environmental statement!
Our gardens could be focused more on food production and less on ornamentals, especially now that food supplies are threatened by drought in California and Washington. On a larger scale, more local farmland could be put into growing fruit and vegetables instead of hay and pasture – but this will only work if more of us make a commitment to supporting local food producers.
I’ve posted before about the benefits of minimizing lawn area, and letting grass go brown in summer. We should have incentives in place for this — maybe households with brown lawns should get tax breaks! The Comox OCP contains policy that prioritizes native plantings and xeriscaping. In spite of this, average water consumption in Comox is 428L per person, per day – well above the national average of 327L.
It’s important to irrigate our gardens carefully, watering early in the day and using drip lines to target specific areas. Trees are a critical component of the landscape, and need to be watered during drought conditions when the water table drops. And why use precious tap water to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping, when so much grey water is disappearing into sewers? Greywater re-use remains a vast untapped resource and one that we will write about in an upcoming post.
Finally, I’m a firm supporter of water meters as an incentive for more conservation by both household and corporate users. We’ve lived in a fog of entitlement for far too long, assuming that water would remain a free and endless resource here on the “Wet Coast”. Desertification is already threatening Canadian prairies, and it’s hubris to think that we know what the future looks like anywhere on the globe.