Plan recommends universal water meters for Salmon Arm as water system stretched by extreme temperatures this summer. (File photo)

Meters seen as top option for conserving Salmon Arm water

Increased demand during high temperatures tax water system but 55 per cent of homes not metered

Water filled a substantial portion of Salmon Arm council’s Aug. 23 agenda, with universal water metering surfacing first.

The city is replacing an out-of-date policy with a new one focusing on water conservation, combined with a plan. It addresses climate change and the future trends of rising annual temperatures, decreased rain in summer, decreased snow and increased frequency of wildfires.

The top-ranked recommendation to decrease water demand in Salmon Arm is universal metering and usage-based pricing.

The policy and plan was researched and created by UBC environmental engineering student Jessica Nelson under the guidance of city engineer Jenn Wilson. Wilson noted that not having an up-to-date plan not only puts potential grants for infrastructure projects at risk, but is also crucial because the city’s water supply system was severely taxed by extreme weather this summer.

Council was told that although annual use of city water has remained steady over the past 15 years and is actually slowly declining, the daily demand is on a significant upward trend because of hotter, drier summers.

While the water treatment plant has maximum sustainable capacity of 36,000 cubic meters per day, if drought conditions continue or worsen, the life of the plant could be shortened to 2030 in a worst-case scenario.

Nelson told council that metering has been implemented in a lot of communities in the B.C. Interior. Most have seen a minimum water usage reduction of 20 per cent, with many up to 30 per cent. She said a 20 per cent reduction in Salmon Arm would mitigate the risk of exceeding the capacity of the plant in the foreseeable future.

Other measures included multi-stage watering restrictions to reduce peak demand and xeriscaping or water-efficient landscaping.

The plan can be seen on the city website on page 40 of city council’s Aug. 23 agenda.

Coun. Chad Eliason asked how many homes have a serviceable water meter. Wilson said approximately 45 per cent of homes are now metered, while 90 per cent of institutional, 90 per cent of agricultural and almost 100 per cent of commercial and industrial buildings are.

Read more: City of Salmon Arm urges residents to cut water use as reservoirs depleted

Read more: Salmon River water users urged to conserve amid drought conditions

Coun. Kevin Flynn asked if homeowners would take over the costs of getting meters.

Wilson said multiple models are used – some municipal governments have received grants to cover the entire cost, some have paid for the cost of the meter while the homeowner has paid for installation, and other variations. She said it hasn’t been determined yet what would best fit Salmon Arm.

Flynn also asked how many years new buildings have been required to have meters. He was told it’s been more than 15 years.

Rob Niewenhuizen, director of engineering and public works, confirmed metering would bring no increased cost for people who use average or below-average amounts of water – only for those who use excessive amounts. However, the exact formula hasn’t been determined yet.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said, at the risk of overstating the obvious, that not having access to adequate amounts of water is far more expensive than anything listed in the policy.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren asked why the use of water from Metford Dam, a source in addition to Shuswap Lake, is declining. Staff said it’s because the reservoir has no filtration, so when water is low, as it has been, the water is not usable.

Coun. Debbie Cannon emphasized that people who grow food for farmers markets should be able to have enough water to keep doing it. Niewenhuizen explained that residents can’t irrigate using potable water on land over half an acre. A hobby farm over that size should be supplementing with another source like a well or creek.

Harrison summed up the discussion saying it’s about the city’s move to a more user-pay system.

“One we want and need to go to.”

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Salmon Arm Observer