Shuswap Lake contains lots of water, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an urgent need to use it sparingly.
With the high usage of water recently, the city can’t replenish its reservoirs. That leaves the city vulnerable to hazards such as fires and power outages.
Water is pumped from the lake and is treated at the plant in Canoe. It’s then pumped around to the city’s half a dozen reservoirs. From the reservoirs it’s dispersed throughout the city.
“What we’re finding right now is we’re not catching up,” says Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of public works. “There’s so much usage, the water in the reservoirs, we’re not able to recharge them in the evenings – typically the evenings are low usage.”
Monday, a day when no residences are permitted to sprinkle, is a day when the reservoirs are usually restored. However, “we’re finding people are abusing that rule. There’s a lot of usage on Monday.”
Niewenhuizen says the city’s bylaw officer will now be ticketing anyone who’s sprinkling on a Monday.
If the usage doesn’t go down and the reservoirs can’t keep up, the city could go to a “full level three water restriction,” or no irrigation.
“We haven’t got there yet but it could come to that at some point. However,” he adds, “I don’t think we’ve ever been there and I don’t think we will get there.”
In the winter, people in the city generally use about six million liters of water a day. The city is now using about 24 million litres. That’s 46 per cent higher for this time of year than the five-year average.
Niewenhuizen points to a recent experience – the big windstorm a couple of weeks ago.
“The power went out in a number of areas… It went out at Metford Dam, it went out at Canoe at the treatment plant, and it went out at Kault Hill, which is our telemetry station – the radio link between all of our feeds. We had no way to produce water – all we were doing was watching the reservoirs go down and down and down. We were trying to get a hold of hydro to see if they could focus their attention on getting us back up and running. Which they did. But those are situations we can’t control. By having less water in our reservoirs, it just doesn’t give us that backup.”
And aside from the potential for problems pumping water during power outages, if the reservoirs get too low, there might not be enough water to fight fires.
He explains a backup generator at the plant was too costly so was not an option. Instead, the city’s backup is extra water in the reservoirs.
“I don’t want to throw out a scare to say ‘Oh, we don’t have enough water to fight a home fire,’” emphasizes Niewenhuizen.
“It’s about the people who are sprinkling in the middle of the day and over-sprinkling. We just want to draw attention to that. Because of the weather events we’ve had, and the hot, hot dry water that’s being forecast for the next few weeks, we are concerned.”
Some residents have pointed to green grass on some city-owned properties and sports fields. Why isn’t the city conserving?
Niewenhuizen says the city, like most others, is exempt from sprinkling restrictions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not conscientious.
He says taxpayers have put up a huge investment in sports fields. If the city were to let them die, “it would cost the taxpayers an enormous amount of money to bring those fields back.”
He says the city’s irrigation systems are controlled by its weather station, as well as an irrigation technician who responds to problems.
Regarding complaints about spray parks, he says the water is not recycled because it must, by health regulations, be treated before it’s re-used, even if it’s for irrigation. That would be very costly. He also says they’re a public service.
Niewenhuizen calls Salmon Arm’s water system complicated.
While commercial and industrial users are metered and billed on usage, most agricultural properties are not metered. However, a bylaw deems that any properties over half an acre must not use potable water for irrigation.
Most residences built after 2005 have meters. Although the city reads the meters, users are not billed on usage. Some high-use residences get letters notifying them, but everyone gets an annual bill.
The meters are installed in case the city goes to universal water metering. That will be a political decision and likely not a wildly popular one.
“I think it would curb some of the usage because people would end up paying for that water,” Niewenhuizen says.