Explainer: Water Consumption in Metro Vancouver

The unprecedented rise in water consumption alarms experts for potential limited water supply in the future.

Stage 1 lawn watering restrictions are now in place. (Flickr/ Brian J. Matis)

Stage 1 lawn watering restrictions are now in place. (Flickr/ Brian J. Matis)

The recent heat wave in British Columbia spiked water consumption levels at its highest on June 26 and 27. A record-breaking temperature of over 40 degrees was felt throughout the region, which led to the high demand for potable water in residential and business areas. Experts are now worried about Metro Vancouver’s water supply as warm temperatures are expected to continue until early September. 

Residents adapted and found ways to cool themselves from the heat using air-conditioning systems or participating in indoor and outdoor water-related activities. This caused an unusual shortage of cooling fans and ice in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Last week, local water reservoirs released 1.79 billion litres to keep up with the demand, which is the closest to nearly two billion litres released on record from 2009. 

The worst may have passed, but Environment Canada scientists are still alarmed as temperatures are still five to 10 degrees above average. 

These records align with B.C.’s climate change models wherein summer drought conditions and soaring temperatures are expected with extreme rainfalls and reduced snowpacks during winter. 

This may result in limited spring runoffs and reduced reservoir water levels.

The Metro Vancouver region alone uses 390 billion litres of water every year and is estimated to reach 600 billion litres per year in nearly a century. 

This causes a growing concern of a water crisis in the upcoming years as the population grows rapidly but with decreasing water supply from three reservoirs — Coquitlam, Seymour, and Capilano — due to high demand and climate change. 

Water restrictions from May 1 to Oct. 15 in Metro Vancouver and careful monitoring of consumption are in place. 

The observance of the Drinking Water Conservation Plan has started with lawn watering restrictions under Stage 1. Daily use of water in households, vehicle cleaning, and filling aesthetic water features are still allowed, but lawn and garden watering are being regulated. Stricter measures will be implemented under Stages 2, 3, and, 4 if needed.

The residential lawn watering regulations permit Wednesday and Saturday mornings for even-numbered addresses and Thursday and Sunday for odd-numbered addresses, both between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. 

Watering flowers, trees, or shrubs are allowed any day using sprinklers, hand watering, drip irrigation, and hoses with automatic shut-offs.

During summer, most households use approximately 60 per cent of their water outdoors. With clean and potable water as a finite resource comprising only one per cent of Earth’s total water, people are highly encouraged to conserve water and use it wisely. 

Conserving water can be maximized by focusing the water on the roots, using large containers, and watering in the morning rather than in the evening to minimize water loss. 

Having rain barrels to catch rainwater during the fall and winter seasons can serve as a supply for watering gardens. Other ways to conserve water include routine checks of possible leakage in pipes, turning off the faucet when it is not being used, and using high-efficiency and water-saving appliances.