Tightening the taps

Dave Stewart
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Charlottetown asking residents to conserve water as watershed levels drop

Cathy Corrigan and Bruce Smith stand in a river which had a high enough water level for canoeing.

Residents in Charlottetown have been ratting out their neighbours this past week as the fight to conserve water begins.

Earlier this week, the City of Charlottetown asked people to stop watering their lawns and driveways and washing their cars in an effort to preserve water.

The weather has been hot and dry and it’s taking a toll on Charlottetown’s one and only source of water — the Winter River Watershed, a source whose levels were running low before the weather turned so dry.

Charlottetown water officials indicate that the city’s water system is running at more than 92 per cent capacity, an alarming statistic considering 50 per cent is considered sustainable.

Mayor Clifford Lee calls the situation serious but not dire, yet, and talk is surfacing about bringing in water-use restrictions.

“We are currently asking the community not to wash their cars, not to do a lot of things that aren’t necessities right now,’’ Lee said.

People have taken notice.

Calls began coming into City Hall less than 24 hours after city council asked people to stop using so much water for outdoor purposes. People are ratting on their neighbours who continue to sprinkle their lawns.

But the numbers so far are not trending in the right direction and the city is very serious about legislating restrictions if people don’t turn off the taps.

“I can assure you and the citizens that if we appear to continue to move in that direction then we will be instituting restrictions,” said the mayor. “We will not be waiting until there is a shortage of water in the city.’’

Craig Walker, manager of the Water and Sewer Utility, said if the demand continues the way it’s going there will be problems.

“If we trend this way for the next two months we will start to struggle supplying water and people would need to make a choice,’’ Walker said.

“Right now with the dry weather we’re seeing heavy demand by our customers because daily flows are higher than what we would consider average. We’re also seeing the reservoir storage not recovering to the elevations we would normally expect or hope to see at this time of year.’’

The city has turned on its emergency backup station on the Malpeque Road. The last time the city used that backup was in 1999.

“It looks as though it might need to come on line because our existing pumps and our well field in the (Winter) River just can’t keep up with the water that’s being used and no precipitation,’’ says Ramona Doyle, the city’s water conservation officer.

Discussions are being held with big users such as the Belvedere Golf Course and Fanningbank, asking them to cut back.

“The situation is we’re just above average and it’s been above average for a couple of months now,’’ Doyle said. “We’re seeing the precipitation levels being so low that it seems to have increased the amount of water people are using and a lot of that is outdoor water use.’’

Cathy Corrigan, co-chair of the Winter River Watershed, says they’ve been raising red flags with the city for years. She stood in a dry stream in one of the creeks at Winter River, a creek people could canoe in earlier this year, to demonstrate her point.

“It’s very low and in some parts of the summer it’s completely dry,’’ Corrigan said. “People think the problem is a lack of rain. That’s only a bit of the story.’’

In 2002, she said eight wells the city was drawing water from went dry before it brought on a new pumping station that same year.

“They had to dig new wells. They need to start acting like this is important. Our wells, streams and rivers are important.’’

Corrigan said people need to start conserving water before it’s too late and they need to do it year-round, not just when the weather is hot and dry.

“Three years ago when we had ample rain we were still low because rain only puts so much (back) in the river, the rest of it is fed by groundwater.’’

The city has begun the process of developing a new well field in the Milton area. The land has been purchased and the necessary permit from the province is in hand. But it’s going to cost $18 million to put the necessary infrastructure in place, a cost the city cannot afford on its own.

Lee says it’s the city’s top priority but it has two choices, borrow the money and jack everyone’s water and sewer bills up, or wait until the next federal infrastructure program begins in 2014 and split the cost three ways. It will probably cost the city about $6 million.

Corrigan said the new well field will take some pressure off the Brackley pumping station but not much. They answer is convincing people to be smarter with water use.

The watershed recently did a presentation at Stonepark Intermediate School and found some alarming information.

“We polled kids at Stonepark and found, on average, they were taking 20- to 30-minute showers. You’d have to be mud wrestling to need a shower that long. We need to get people away from that.’’

Rob Reddin, P.E.I.’s water conservation education co-ordinator with the Sierra Club of Canada, said behaviour is a major factor.

“It’s something in Canada we take for granted,’’ Reddin said. “We’re not going to be able to anymore.’’

Lee says the city isn’t enforcing water restrictions yet and won’t as long as people heed the warning and cut back.

“If everyone wants to continue washing their cars, filling their swimming pools three times a day (and) watering their lawns then, yes, we’re going to bring in legislation. It’s the last thing we want to do but, at the end of the day, we have an obligation to the citizens of Charlottetown to have a water supply that is a healthy water supply. We must allow the basic necessities to flow.’’

 

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Stonepark Intermediate School, Sierra Club of Canada

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Malpeque Road, Milton Canada

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Recent comments

  • Dick Penderyn
    July 14, 2012 - 16:48

    Ratting on someone is a term used in the criminal world not amongst Law abiding citizens, unless the Guardian looks upon anyone who tries to help keep a balance of life a criminal! Good news reporting should be divorced of personal feelings.

  • Teddy
    July 14, 2012 - 16:08

    Well now this is not just about low rainfall. We in this city are stressing the Winter River supply at 92%, And we have 'unfunded' plans for a project costing $18 million to build a well site in Miltonvale, the North River watershed area I presume. Again emphasis on the ' unfunded' part of this subplot. The Plan B highway misadventure is now up to over $20 million, it seems. And nobody wants it nor needs it , except for the direct beneficiaries. Great to have priorities. I guess.

  • an observer
    July 14, 2012 - 13:37

    Let's put it this way: Decide if your car, lawn, whatever is more important than drinking water and water needed to out fires. If you think your car and everyone else's car should be washed instead of having awater reserve for a fire situation that might be sparked by someone not stamping out his camp fire well enough, or stubbing out the cigarette well enough in a tiner dry area, go right ahead and wash that car and water that lawn. To those that are out and about....... if you decide to have a fire under these drought conditions or if you then make sure the thing is well doused before you leave it. Better yet don't do it. If you smoke then field strip the cigarette and make darn sure no spark from a carelessly thrown cigarette can linger on in these dry conditions to cause a later flame. Re the put down on islanders by Shellie - give me a break and you... smarten up!

  • Future
    July 14, 2012 - 13:08

    If the water supply for current residents and businesses is running out perhaps they should stop building new structures. If there isn't enough water to supply us now, what happens when a few hundred more families and businesses move in? Are they thinking of our future? There are condos going up everywhere, and still a convention centre to be built. The city needs to sort out the water situation and stop handing out building permits.

  • XComa
    July 14, 2012 - 12:11

    Sometimes people need total or catastrophic failure to get the picture or to better understand.. Usually, by then it is too late.. Now if some of the people would stop watering their driveway like they expect it to grow.. Really, you feel the need to wash your driveway ? I'd like to see a meter on every house.. Excessive use should pay way more not proportionally more..

  • Stilman
    July 14, 2012 - 10:40

    How many millions of litres of water will the Bonshaw area Plan B project use up?

  • JRCK
    July 14, 2012 - 09:45

    Was water not a concern talked about before the building of the fixed link? I know it was . With everyone moving out of rural P.E.I. into the urban areas it is only going to get worse. There is no planning on P.E.I. and there has never been any.

  • Twiggy Rathbone
    July 14, 2012 - 08:58

    Shellie, since you don't even live in Charlottetown or even PEI how would you know who is wasting water? People live in other areas besides Stratford and Brighton.

  • not asked not told
    July 14, 2012 - 06:37

    sorry. people were asked not to water the lawn? nope. some councillor made some noise about a water storage about the shortage and some statements about not washing cars. But that's a long way from being asked. In fact, walking around it seems that more cars were being washed before a ban was put in place. Ratting out a neighbour? for what? at the very least, the city should just say it - no car washing; garden watering odd/even days only; no lawn sprinkling. Even if there's no teeth, at least there's a POLICY not posturing.

    • Shellie
      July 14, 2012 - 08:45

      Merciful Jeez, Islanders as We know are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the lights are on but nobody's home, a couple of bricks short a load. Water especially water that comes from The Island's ground water IS The most valuable natural resource We have. > > ^ It is NOT ratting anyone out by Reporting ignorant people who are wasting Our precious Water resources on their dam cars, Lawns & pools. Lee, Lantz and the rest of City Officials need to start coming down hard on their Brighton & Stratford resident friends. Fluck the votes, Lee You will get more votes by stepping up to the plate and acting like a man, a decent, worthwhile Mayor !

  • don
    July 14, 2012 - 01:24

    Stop gabbing Clifford...bring in the legislation with teeth and a Rat number. he is waiting to have government bring in a law city hall is SCARED votes votes. or he has shares in the bottled water companies.

  • bye the way
    July 13, 2012 - 22:40

    Stop gabbing Clifford...bring in the legislation with teeth and a Rat number .I just put my dog out at 1130 pm...three of my backyard green-lawn-nuts have their sprinklers wide open....

  • concerned
    July 13, 2012 - 21:55

    If the City is so concerned about our water supply then why does it have a front page story in the Guardian regarding watering the flowers at one of our squares?????

  • Bring in Meters
    July 13, 2012 - 20:52

    Charlottetown should have all houses have water meters. Other cities do. This would make people who use more water pay for how much water they use and then maybe people would stop wasting water washing cars, washing driveways, etc. People have to pay based on consumption for electricity, oil and other utilities so why not water?