Metro Vancouver to study water metering for conservation

Regional district set for early start of sprinkling restrictions this summer, eyes long-range options

More water could be drawn from the Coquitlam reservoir over the short and medium term.

Metro Vancouver will begin water use restrictions two weeks earlier than normal next month in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last summer’s shortage, and it will also assess whether more water metering or other strategies would best help conserve the supply over the long term.

The regional district will begin standard stage 1 water restrictions on lawn sprinkling on May 15 this year instead of June 1, and they’ll run until Oct. 15. instead of the end of September.

Metro utilities committee chairman Darrell Mussatto said the regional district is simultaneously embarking on a two-year study of the pros and cons of residential metering, as well as potential alternatives.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” Mussatto said, noting meters are very costly – $400 to $1,000 per home to install plus around $50 a year for reading and billing.

Homes are already charged based on how much water they use in a few cities – Richmond, West Vancouver and in parts of Surrey.

Where meters are used they help reduce consumption, but Mussatto said the region needs to carefully consider what else could be done with the money instead.

More enforcement against water wastrels is one alternative.

“If we go to stage 2, for example, and you’re only allowed to water your lawns once a week, if people are watering outside that could we get the same type of compliance a lot cheaper through bylaw officers?”

A key consideration is the fact that reducing the water used doesn’t in itself save the system much money overall.

The vast majority of Metro’s water costs are for the infrastructure to treat and deliver it, not the water itself. Those system costs don’t vanish just because water use drops.

Conservation just helps delay when the next big expensive project to increase the supply is needed.

“If we put water meters in, what it does is shift who pays the bill, it doesn’t reduce the bill a tremendous amount,” Mussatto said.

The big losers who’d pay more under metering would be single family houses with lawns to water, he added, while multi-family unit dwellers would pay less.

And since meters will add fixed costs, the total cost of the water system would go up, potentially by hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s not cheap,” Mussatto said. “If you do go to water meters, it may mean paying more for less water.”

Metro is also looking at shorter term options to further cut per capita water use on peak days, which has been declining by about two per cent a year.

The regional district also has options for getting more water if needed over the mid-term.

Officials expect that they could buy extra water from BC Hydro from the Coquitlam reservoir to meet expected demand over the next 10 years.

After that, Mussatto said, a deeper intake at Coquitlam could allow the region to draw more from a lower level, providing extra supply for another two decades.

Thirty years out or more, he said, is the expected time frame for potentially needing to raise the height of the Seymour dam to store more water.

Snowpacks above Metro Vancouver are only slightly below normal so far and well above the same time last year, so officials are optimistic for now that the water supply will be sufficient without imposing extreme restrictions.

One other tweak to the rules is that businesses that were banned last year from aesthetic pressure washing at stage 2 will be allowed to continue this year. Pressure washing was previously allowed only for health and safety reasons once stage 2 was declared.

The region has also clarified the rules allowing the sprinkling of nematode-treated lawns by permit to reduce chafer beetle infestations.

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