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Summer drought of 2021 leads Salmon Arm to new water restrictions

Residents will soon see 10 new signs to keep them updated on current stage
New signs coming soon to Salmon Arm will provide residents with information about the current stage of water restrictions in the city. (City of Salmon Arm image)

Salmon Arm residents will soon be seeing new signs around town that look similar to those for forest fire danger ratings.

To stay ahead of potential drought conditions over the summer, Salmon Arm is in the process of implementing a new system of restricting water usage. In the past, restrictions consisted of allowing irrigation two days per week from May 15 to Oct. 15, regardless of drought and other conditions limiting water supply.

Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, explained to council on April 24 that the proposed multistage restrictions consist of four stages, each stage allowing fewer days of irrigation, ranging from three days per week in Stage 1 to no irrigation in Stage 4.

“It’a quite a change from the last 25 years.”

Niewenhuizen’s report pointed out that in the summer of 2021, the city experienced a Level 4 drought and record-breaking daily water demands. The high water demands added strain to the entire water distribution system, resulting in the system being unable to keep up with demand in some areas.

This created dangerously low reservoir levels and strain on the water treatment plant.

“While the 2021 event was unprecedented, even in average years the Zone 2 pumps are unable to keep up with peak-hour demand during periods of high irrigation, resulting in severe/extreme/disturbing/concerning draw-down of the reservoirs. This results in potentially insufficient fire storage and could potentially interfere with firefighters’ ability to effectively stop a fire.”

Read more: 2022 - Level of Shuswap Lake drops a smidgeon but peak still in question

He added that freshet is still to come, but the city wants to be “ahead of the game.”

Niewenhuizen noted high summer water demands are primarily the result of watering lawns and other residential irrigation needs. He added that the city is criticized for its irrigation practices but it has changed them and has gone through all its parks. The only fields it won’t stop irrigating are sports fields, he said, as “we can’t lose that infrastructure.”

Water restrictions in splash parks will be at his discretion.

In August 2022, in order to preserve the longevity of the water distribution system, maintain public safety and ensure potable water availability, council approved the implementation of multistage water restrictions.

Ten new permanent signs will be going up around the community at the beginning of May, informing residents of the current stage of water restrictions. They will have movable arrows that are adjusted with conditions. A small sign will also be set up at city hall.

Read more: Meters seen as top option for conserving Salmon Arm water

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren asked if water restrictions will ever touch water usage inside homes.

Niewenhuizen said it comes down to water meters and if the city goes with universal water metering at some point, the amount of water being used could be monitored.

Coun. Tim Lavery said he’s a strong proponent of universal water metering. He also likes the city’s chart of water usage restrictions (see April 24 council agenda, pg. 109) that shows what practices are allowed as water usage moves into Stage 2 and 3.

Lavery asked if commercial car washes are allowed to operate during Stage 4, severe drought. Niewenhuizen said the city doesn’t have jurisdiction to stop a business from operating, but car washes do have water metres.

Coun. Kevin Flynn pointed to the city’s strategic plan, which lists universal water metering as a longer range priority for 2028 to 2030. He added that it’s up to everyone to monitor wasted water use as the system is complaint-based. He said he made a couple of calls last year about water running down the street in the middle of the day.

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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