Metro Vancouver trails Seattle on water conservation

Leaky water pipes a major challenge for regional district

Coquitlam Lake is the reservoir serving the eastern third of Metro Vancouver.

Despite imposing aggressive restrictions on lawn sprinkling, Metro Vancouver still uses much more much more water on a per resident basis than Seattle.

A staff report says water use in Metro Vancouver was 455 litres per capita per day in 2014, while Seattle officials estimate daily water use per capita there at 340 litres, about 25 per cent lower.

Seattle has intensive water conservation programs.

“They have more water meters and a pretty robust conservation system,” said North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro’s utilities committee. “It’s a bit of a sign that we have to continue to conserve and improve.”

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Those per capita use numbers include not just residential but industrial, commercial and institutional consumption, divided by the total population.

Mussatto cautioned that differing proportions of industrial, commercial and residential users in the two metro regions may partly account for different water consumption rates and make direct comparisons difficult.

Another big challenge for Metro Vancouver is water leakage from old pipes in the ground, often on the home owner’s property after the water leaves pipes and laterals under the direct responsibility of the local municipality or regional district.

“A lot of them are old connections and they leak,” Mussatto said. “We know 50 per cent or more of our water is lost after it passes the property line.”

He said Metro overall uses slightly more drinking water than the per capital average in Canada.

The regional district has seen significant improvement in per capita use – by about two per cent a year – particularly after limiting summer water sprinkling to just three days a week and in early morning hours only.

Metro officials are beginning a two-year study of residential water metering – the pros, the cons and the alternatives – as the region mulls what to do next to conserve more water and delay the need for costly infrastructure work to increase reservoir capacity.

The region is this year running its stage 1 water restrictions two weeks earlier than usual and two weeks later, in an attempt to conserve water in its reservoirs against another potential severe drought.

Metro Vancouver reservoirs were at 91 per cent of capacity as of June 12 – the top end of the normal range, as opposed to last summer when the supply was near record low levels in mid-June.

Rain in June has helped, Mussatto said.

“We’re in a very good situation compared to last year, for sure,” he said. “But we don’t want people to get complacent and go back to using water whenever and wherever they want.”