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Water for the future

A new report on future water demand in Pembina Valley Conservation District — already a frugal user of water — points to need for conservation strategy

Report underscores need to conserve now

Residents in the Pembina Valley Conservation District use less water than the average Manitoban, but that won’t spare them from a water shortage expected to hit within the next 25 years — unless ways are found now to use even less.

Those are conclusions drawn from a three-year water use study in the towns, villages, municipalities and city of Winkler that comprise the Pembina Valley Conservation District.

Residents of the region use about 70 per cent of the water other Manitobans do, or 160 litres of water a day compared to a provincial average of 227 litres. That’s also less than half of the Canadian average of 339 litres.

The findings, gleaned from public water utilities data are a new report titled Be True to Blue, funded by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and done by two Ottawa-based Friends of the Earth (FOE) scientists working with the Pembina Valley Conservation District and Manitoba Water Stewardship.

“The Pembina Valley region is very, very frugal with their water,” said Sheila Forsyth, senior scientific adviser with FOE. She presented the study’s analysis and findings at a Morden meeting earlier this spring.

That’s the good news

The bad news is that by 2040 the region will have a shortfall and will need new sources of water if current demand rates continue. The study did not project or forecast. But it did create scenarios around how the area’s water use will develop with time.

A mix of water from lakes and reservoirs, groundwater wells and other aquifers presently supplies water and drinking water to the six municipalities and the towns and villages within the C.D. But the looming spectre of climate change, and increased population mean those supplies may not be sufficient.

The study projected three scenarios, whereby residents either continued on a “business as usual” route, introduced some efficiency gains through measures such as low-flow toilets, or took a third approach referred to as the “water soft path” approach.

Their goal was to find an approach that would lead to no new water use despite projected population growth, with 2030 and 2040 as the target years, Forsyth said. “We set ourselves a tough target.”

They’ve concluded that some tough measures to reach that target will be required.

Only by adopting the third approach, can it be met, she said.

“Something needs to enter stage right, and it’s the water soft path (scenario),” she said.

The approach is referred to as “soft” because it depends less on technological fixes and resource-intensive inputs and more on human ingenuity to adopt conservation practices that reduce and manage water demand. That means stopping water leakages in homes and industry, introducing efficient water use appliances, and changing public behaviour around water use. Xeriscaped landscaping, which is designed to require no irrigation, is the norm with water soft path approaches. So is harvesting rainwater with rain barrels and cisterns.

“It’s almost a back-to-the-future approach,” said Forsyth, noting that both were once the norm in most homes.

Matching use with quality

Conservation actions of this calibre will also require changing the way we think about water, and matching use to quality. We will look back one day and ask why we used water fit to drink to flush toilets, Forsyth said.

“The water soft path approach boils down to asking questions,” she said. “And one is, ‘Why do we use potable drinking water that we’ve paid money to treat to flush toilets?’ There are alternatives. We could be using grey water to flush toilets. Or there are composting toilets.”

And while changes to things like building codes allowing for more collection of grey water are one of the challenges moving forward with water conservation strategies, ultimately it will boil down to leadership, Forsyth said.

People will likely be reluctant to change because of a perception that there is so much water available. And it’s cheap. Even in communities in the PVCD where they pay the most for their water — Cartwright and Manitou — they still do not pay the full cost to treat it.

The Be True to Blue report proposes a series of practices, suggestions and tools municipalities could adopt, from doing xeriscaped lawn demo projects, to raising water rates. But it will boil down to willingness to tackle a plan, Forsyth said.

“They (municipalities) will need to develop a plan and get it out to the public,” she said.

“We did this (study) for the whole C.D. but what we hope is that each one of the regions and municipalities will develop more scenarios, and mix and match the targets that we’ve proposed, and then create something that’s homegrown so it works.”

Councils that act will see economic gains as well as environmental, she continued, adding that more effective management of water demand not only reduces water budgets but lessens need for expensive infrastructure upgrades, such as water treatment plants and lagoons.

“Expansions of lagoons and waste water treatment systems could be delayed or even avoided in some cases,” she said. “If your community is using less water, then you don’t have to treat as much.”

The project was funded by the Royal Bank’s Blue Water Project. The Pembina Valley C.D. was selected for the study because of its record in good watershed planning and its already self-evident water conservation ethic.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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