Monday, August 1, 2016

Can We Learn Anything from the Water Crisis?

Into our second week of dealing with water restrictions, what longer term thinking could this difficult situation inspire?

First, it's a classic example of how needs and wants differ.  One of the basic services that the city provides to its residents, safe drinking water, was put in jeopardy through circumstances totally beyond our control.  I want to commend the city staff who wasted no time in getting on top of the problem, figuring out potential solutions, and communicating with residents.  Last weekend was a constant stream of phone calls from residents wondering mostly about whether the water was safe to drink; once the information flyer was delivered on Monday, those calls have decreased considerably.

Clean drinking water is a need.  Other water uses have been identified as wants, and actions taken accordingly.  Residents have certainly responded positively in reducing their discretionary use of water - I know that we're not the only family who has cut back on showers, laundry, and toilet flushing, and who stockpiled water that we're using for cooking and making coffee.  This kind of community support has proven invaluable in stretching out our available water reserves.

But the emergency has also pointed out that our reserve capacity may be lower than it should be.  Perhaps, instead of building more facilities that use water, we should look at investing in more reserve capacity.  It's not just our growing population that we need consider, but our commercial arrangements with surrounding RMs also need to be considered - have we increased our capacity to match these growing needs?

We also need to consider the wisdom of allowing city facilities to use water without paying for it.  As far as I'm concerned, the cost of water should be included when user fees are calculated; right now, they aren't, meaning that tax payers are subsidizing recreational users.  I find it interesting that when the golf course couldn't use potable water for irrigation, they managed to find a solution by accessing non-treated water.  Perhaps, instead of investing $2 million in a new irrigation system that will continue to use potable water to keep the greens nice, we should be looking into a system that doesn't use our most expensive water for what is definitely a want, not a need.

At present, we don't know when things will get back to normal.  Temporary solutions, which will lessen the pressure on our reserves, appear to be close, but these solutions are only temporary.  It will be important, over the next weeks and months, to continue to be careful in our water usage.  And it will be just as important, when we are able to once again use water directly from the river, to think about changes that we can make, to reduce the impact of future situations, not just go back to business as usual.

"You don't miss the water till the well runs dry." - Anonymous

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