Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

B.C. aims to cut water use

with 38 comments


The province wants us to save water. I wonder why? There is no mention of the rush for new run of the river hydro schemes – all designed to put money into the pockets of investors by selling power to the US.

There is also no mention of the role of municipal water systems – and how old infrastructure wastes vast amounts of water every day. Leaky old pipes are not being replaced as a money saving measure. And again there is no mention of the province using some of its huge surplus to invest in better infrastructure.

Plus, of course, we live on the wet coast – this used to be a temperate rain forest. You might have noticed that it rains here. And that our reservoirs do not have enough capacity to meet demand year round, but much of the time are simply spilling water over the dams. We are also not allowed to use grey water systems for tasks like flushing toilets. It offends against the building code. As do most systems that would allow us to build in a way that retained water on site. Once again I refer to the subdivision that Patrick Condon helped design that reused all its water, and had very advanced drainage systems but had to have a duplicate, expensive and completely unnecessary municipal system added, to satisfy the code.

Yes as consumers we can do more, but why it is always the easy path – to spend small sums on hectoring the populace with silly ideas like “if its yellow let it mellow” – when major shifts in the way we do planning, building and regulating development are actually needed? Because its easy that’s why. Not effective. Cycle along any Vancouver bikeway in summer, any non sprinkling day and count how many people are watering the sidewalks and driveways. There are by laws and regulations already that cover that but compliance is spotty at best.

Buy a rain barrel by all means. Do not use fresh drinking quality water to wash your car. Plant native species instead of Kentucky blue grass – then you can get rid of that horrible gas mower too! There is stuff we can do. But mostly government needs to put its own house in order before it starts hectoring us. Do the loos in your local school flush all the time – even when no-one is there?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2008 at 9:29 am

Posted in Environment

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38 Responses

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  1. Read the tea leaves “grasshopper” this is nothing more than a prelude to expensive water and more metering,maybe people should stop showering,that way we will all stink as bad as this provincial goverment.

    If their worried about water now, maybe the million more expected people to the GVRD shoul be told to go somewhere else!
    This is where I have a real problem with “eco-density” yea come on in,crowd it up ,overload the hospitals,brown the green space,oh by the way your all using too much water and were going to charge you big time for water!

    Sorry this is where I rail against all you” kumbia people” We can share the air-We can share the water_We can share the wealth-We can share the BONG that all the city planners are using–When the GVRD is full its full SHEESH.

    Did you catch that peice on CBC national last night–A billion and a half people could starve to death because of food shortage! We “kumbia” people don`t need to grow any food here in the GVRD do we? We have no water for that, or land. After we all take turns with the city planners bong we can get down with the plants and tell them they can only drink one day a week!——————————————–signed……………………….The last resident of the SAHARA FOREST

    grant g

    June 4, 2008 at 9:52 am

  2. I’m usually reluctant to engage ranters, but grant’s rant above is drivel. Obviously you prefer to hammer the keys than to read.


    June 4, 2008 at 10:44 am

  3. I can read just fine, my comment has to do with listening to PENNER yesterday,you just don`t get it do you?
    Why does everything have to get filled to the point of a problem? Anti immigrant no I am not but our over population for this area is imported not home grown.

    Our watersheds depend on snow pack for year round water supply,what happens if we have a brutal snow pack year with a million more thirsty people?
    I understand your a “city planner” by my comment was not directed to you.

    More people more hospitals more roads more transit more housing more goverment more city planners more imported food more bottled water more police more crime more drug addicts more jails to what end,growth for the sake of growth,you might think your green but your part of the problem.
    Cascadia valley and watershed is a sensitive area or maybe you haven`t figured that out yet,maybe we should come up with some answeres first before we keep adding to the problem.
    We have a giant province and there are many areas that can absorb people and thats the route we should go.

    Why don`t you start to think about a thousand years ahead instead of your next fiscal quarter!——————————-signed……………………chance favours the prepared mind

    grant g

    June 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

  4. Water metering will curb wasteful usage more than any other measure.
    It’s like the use of gas fireplaces in condos – if you aren’t directly responsible for the cost (i.e. if the gas cost isin the condo maintenance fee), you’ll squander it and take advantage of the distribution of costs among others.

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm

  5. There have been plenty of answers posted in Stephen’s and other linked blogs + web sites, and many expressins of hope too, at least as many as your cascade of perceived problems.


    June 4, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  6. Why don’t we meter the water spilling over the dams? I’m serious, this conserve water nonsense is nothing more than a bureaucratic make work project.

    Malcolm J.

    June 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm

  7. I don’t think up to 40% of our tax-funded potable water supply hissing on summer lawns is a make work project for bureaucrats. It’s a complete waste of resources, both physical and financial, and needs more, not less, regulation.


    June 4, 2008 at 3:29 pm

  8. But if people save water, then the Province can sell it to bottlers who will then sell it back to the people. Brilliant!


    June 5, 2008 at 9:42 am

  9. The real issue with water is not on the supply side. It’s on the sewage side. Victoria and Vancouver, along with many other areas in B.C., need secondary and tertiary treatment of sewage. These projects will cost billions. How should we pay for them? That’s where universal water metering comes in.


    June 5, 2008 at 10:24 am

  10. If you pull back to the long view, like from the space station, it’s evident we built our cities with great inherent inefficiencies and waste, and without the redundancies that would make them much more resilient. Try and avoid it as long as we and our elected decision makers might, climate change and peak oil will eventually force a massive rebuilding effort. Planning for it and managing it are hardly on the table for discussion yet, especially in the main stream press. And the clock is ticking.


    June 5, 2008 at 10:38 am

  11. This is another example of Wag the Dog. No one gave the provincial government the mandate to reduce water use. It was no where in the platform when they ran for government, and there has been no public discussion or referendum.

    The idea of metering sounds good, but is actually more expensive per capita than increasing the supply of water.

    If there is one element of human behaviour that is not sustainable it is population growth; yet you will not find an effort at any level of government in Canada to curb population growth, even though our birthrate is below self-sustaining. That is to say, it is a simple goal to achieve, simply by controlling the immigration rate to that necessary to sustain the population. Yet there is no party in the country that espouses such a policy. Why? Because it is not politically popular. It would require that we all live within our means rather than rely on an ever-increasing population to pay for our healthcare and our retirement. Ah, the simple human greed.

    Meanwhile, we will continue to see policies designed to make us feel guilty for living, for commuting to work, for wanting to live in a spacious environment, and now for consuming the plentiful water of the Pacific Northwest.

    Big Brother, welcome to the 21st century.


    June 5, 2008 at 10:38 am

  12. I reiterate my sentiments, did anyone read the article in todays province about how municipal spending is out of control!
    Spending double or more the rate of inflation, The more money goverments get the more they spend.

    Growth for the sake of growth–Read parkinson`s law!

    Populations that get large,deteriorate and get worse.You have to figure out how to make what we have work before you eco-densify.
    So growth flys in the face of “city planners” because things are not getting better!

    Go ahead read the article in the province,time to stop putting the cart before the horse!———————–signed……………………..Green lawns absorb carbon and puts it in the soil

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

  13. WRT sewage treatment, primary treatment relies on screening and settling ponds (if I recall correctly) – so I think that in terms of dissolved substances, dilution (through increased water volumes) is actually beneficial for the receiving environment.

    Ron C.

    June 5, 2008 at 11:49 am

  14. Great post RIC—-Thanks

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 11:53 am

  15. I also agree that municipal spending is out of control – Burrard Bridge cantilevered bike lanes (even before the cost escalation), Pacific Boulevard redevelopment, Granville Street redevelopment, overkill on the SEFC seawall.
    The news reported that Vancouver determines its projected costs for a given taxation year, then increases the tax burden to pay for its wish list. Higher levels of government estimate tax revenue, then plan budgets around how muh they expect to receive. Which makes more sense?

    Ron C.

    June 5, 2008 at 11:54 am

  16. Grant + Ric, which one of you will be the first to stand up and run for office on a platform to build the Great Wall of Canada? Afraid your comfortable anonynimity will be lifted, by perchance? Or of the inevitable reaction? Or of accepting responsibility for your own statements even in these too-easy-to-rant-in blogs? Where are your cojones?

    You are banking on Stephen’s sense of democracy and upholding the principle of free speech, though I’d say in your case the bank issues withdrawls on Stephen’s and reader’s patience while almost everyone else makes contributions to elevating the quality of discourse.

    I’d rather read about building better communities with diverse people, not about tearing them down or shutting doors in new faces. You insult everyone with immigrant ancestors who helped build this country, including me, and assume that we somehow have greater rights to stay by dint of mere occupation or even by birth. I have a huge problem with that attitude, namely because it seeks without fail to exclude everyone else but yourselves, and paints the entire world in black & white.

    Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberg, two individuals with several decades experience in the American environmental movement, tried to find the scientific evidence to prove the assumptions made by the Club of Rome and all the other popular population doomsayers that population growth alone is leading us to Armageddon. They couldn’t find anything credible to back up those claims.

    They wrote a book called “Breakthrough, From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility” and see nothing wrong with the notion that 7 to 10 billion people can live in relative harmony and ecological balance on the planet. It requires a huge change in attitude — even in the all-growth-is-evil portion of the wider environmental movement — to make it happen. After all, we are facing this century the largest set of crises in the history of civilization.

    The issue is more complex than just simple overpopulation; it involves increasing standards of living without adopting the huge ecological footprints of the developed world. And the authors are very informative on how that can be done while getting society to willingly embrace the planetary challenges, rather than insult the collective intelligence by propping open the floodgates of negativity as so commonly practiced in the environmental movement since the 60s.

    They also have many stunning observations about society’s attitudes and bahaviour patterns. One of them is applicable to you in that when faced with crises larger than themselves (eg. climate change), educated, liberal-minded societies can turn in large numbers to facism … which often starts with anti-immigrant-and-man-the-barricades hyperbole.

    Read the book. Then get back to us.


    June 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

  17. I have insulted no-one,your a city planner so your upset, Don`t talk to me about developing nations for I have seen those pictures from AFRICA for 50 years.

    I face facts,if there was only one billion people on earth right now global destruction would not be as big of a problem. You my dear have attacked me several times on this story,you have also attacked RIC who I thought had a very insightful post.

    You my dear (with respect) are the greener pasture type ,open up the fence and let the cattle move from one green pasture to another and sooner rather than later there are no more green pastures,just dead cattle.

    I would suggest you look in the mirror and examine your own soul before you critcize mine. If STEPHEN REES has a problem with my posts he would tell me by way of email .

    Your personal attacks are shameful (out of your norm) go ahead attack my ides or thoughts but keep your own short comings to yourself———————–signed…………………..The late great planet earth

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  18. Thank you for posting that, Meredith.

    I try, wherever possible, to defend the rights of others to free speech even when I disagree with them. And I much prefer it when someone else comes up with a rebuttal to an argument I find distasteful. I am actually both wary and weary of arguing.

    I am myself a relatively recent immigrant – 20 years actually. In think we need more immigration, not less. Canada is mostly empty. We are in real need of all kinds of people – not just the ones that will fill existing job vacancies. And we treat immigrants abominably. I have lost track of the times I have ranted here about engineers who can only find work as taxi drivers.

    The only time I delete posts is when the intent is obviously to disrupt discussion and cause problems. Trolls and spam both get dumped. But I have let quite a few people now ride their hobby horses here, and I think, on the whole, its probably better to let people chunter on. After all, no-one is forced to click the comments button, and not a few readers I have talked to have said they do not read the comments at all.

    And one other thought occurs to me. Where are all the refugees from rising sea levels going to go? This is especially important to me as it looks like I will be one of them. I wonder if Richmond will look like Venice, with people living in just the top storeys of the condos.

    Stephen Rees

    June 5, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  19. My second post mentions this giant province and the ability of other areas in this province to absorb people .

    I reiterate your insults are out of the norm and I also think its a little preumptuous of you to claim or insinuate that everyone else agrees with you about me or RIC and I don`t hide from anyone I will state the same arguments at BC place or on a crowded skytrain ,

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

  20. This comment has been deleted by the moderator and its author advised of the reasons


    June 5, 2008 at 1:55 pm

  21. Grant, I am not, nor will ever be, your dear.


    June 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm

  22. Stephen, thanks for hosting this blog. It must take a lot of work, and be frustrating at times to practice tolerance.


    June 5, 2008 at 3:20 pm

  23. More personal attacks!

    Your not acting very mature, you mentioned 7 to 10 billion people,for earth,well were almost at 7 billion, so what about 11 to 20 billion.

    Your arguement fails,you think your arbitrary population amount is the right one,same thing right, who made you the decider?

    Your obviously having a bad day and you just lost another debate.

    What about 30 billion,or a trillion, I personally think you should apoligize but that would take a reasonable person to do that.

    Like a lifeboat,you and you alone MEREDITH decide to put those extra people in the boat and what happens, you guessed it,everyone drowns.

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

  24. That other tactic of yours MEREDITH dragging MR.REES and others into your one sided tantrum,acting like your speaking for the group.

    Another losing tactic in the world of debate.

    Nice try though!

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 3:59 pm

  25. Meredith, you should read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.


    June 5, 2008 at 6:21 pm

  26. Corey—Ishmael fantastic,I read the short version through wikopedia,I will definately put it on my must read list.

    I think I get your point,we are not gods and to think we can control world events or even to think we are anything more but another animal on this planet is fool hardy.

    I know sometimes I come across harsh but I am not,I have felt this way since about the age of 5—-I was a planet earth lover before I even knew what an enviromentalist was.

    I have seen too many species die and wither with the slightest human interference,I truly believe that we have not yet learned how to live in harmony with the earth.

    One day maybe but were not even close yet. So to pretend we can densify or eco-fy or lighten our footprint enough to,well control things like “gods”
    That thinking will surely finish us all!

    I might have that concept of “Ishmael” wrong but the short version I read tells me diffrent again thanks for that pointer to “Ishmael”

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 7:22 pm

  27. Wow. Ok, a lot of comments and numerous rants, although not a whole lot of discussion on water. As someone who does do a substantial amount of “day job” research on water policy, I am absolutely thrilled that there is a move towards water saving in this province . The current Canadian (and BC/Vancouver) patterns of consumption are completely unsustainable.

    The fact that water wasn’t metered has led to overconsumption. Those who believe that “Canada is blessed with a lot of water” should really read the volume edited by Dr. Karen Bakker “Eau Canada” published by UBC Press. Fairly inexpensive read, at about less than $40 per book. One of the first chapters actually does a great job of reminding us that water is NOT so abundant in Canada.

    If people just reflected on the fact that the overall availability of water is less than 0.2% of the world’s water supply, they might start saving water. I’m just saying. Further reading? The World Water Assessment Project. Anyone who needs links and/or more information, send me an email or drop me a comment on my blog.



    June 5, 2008 at 9:08 pm

  28. More on water—Every action has an equal opposite reaction.

    The GVRD now when it rains it lands on unnatural surfaces and vanishes into sewers,who says watering lawns is a waste? Grasses absorb carbon and store carbon in the ground.

    What about ground water? Theres a river in the states the colorado I think,by the time it reaches the ocean there is no water left,all the water gets used,don`t you think the ocean needs that water too?
    What is wrong in letting water run free, I think maybe we all should read “Ishmael”

    Now when it rains oil runs off streets into water supplies,capture river water,reduce flow and now were altering mother nature again. God like activity don`t you think.

    Around the world water is running short,especially GROUND WATER –water most people are not aware exists, so who among you is wise enough to state with proof that watering lawns is wasteful.

    Where and how did all that ground water come to be? Again,every action has an equal and opposite reaction!
    signed………………………………….Ground water life forms

    grant g

    June 5, 2008 at 9:45 pm

  29. I do not wish to enter a quigmire of “he said, she said.”Clearly there are some diverse opinions being expressed; I have no need to be derisive of any of them. My opinions are based on a rich life of experience, so I would be surprised if I will read anything here that I have not read and understood before, or will significantly change my opinions because of what is written.

    I would like to correct some apparent misunderstandings about my position. I am not against immigration, and especially a rich blend of immigration, rather than from one predominant source. Two main restirctions I believe are beneficial to the country are:

    1. immigration rate be limited to that required to sustain population.

    2. candidates be selected by industry to ensure that the skills and qualifications being solicited are in fact those required, and not those some independent body thinks are required.

    My views on water are that there is plenty here for the existing population, and that the government should just get on with their mandated role or providing the best possible quality of water to households and businesses, at the lowest possible cost. Leave the concern of conserving water to those jurisdictions in which there is value in doing so.

    This would free up the government to achieve more pressing concerns which actually are part of their mandate, such as native land claims, safe extraction of offshore oil and gas, solving the pine beetle problem, ridding cities of needless and wasteful commuting, dealing with the social mess on the Vancouver downtown eastside………….


    June 6, 2008 at 8:46 am

  30. Raul

    Your comments reflect world and Canada. In fact Canada has more of the world’s fresh water than anyone else. But the point I made in my original post was that here, in this region, we do NOT have a water shortage. Why do we need to conserve water when we collect very little of what falls from the sky and allow most of that to flow to the sea?

    If this was Israel or Arizona I would understand the point you make – but Greater Vancouver?

    Sure, we use a lot of it. And we don’t recycle any and we don’t treat our waste water very effectively. And everything about our system reflects a long standing desire to keep the cost to users as low as possible. But as far as I am aware the hydrological cycle is expected to continue to supply us with plenty. If I am wrong about this please let me know.

    And the bottled water industry has successfully managed to persuade most of us to pay more per litre for drinking water than we do for gasoline – when it is almost free from any tap and is in fact probably better quality than what is in the bottle.

    Stephen Rees

    June 6, 2008 at 10:28 am

  31. Ric, thanks for clarifying your view … it helps get beyond glib generalizations that are open to interpretation. Coming from non-English speaking homesteaders and a United Nations family has illustrated to me that immigration literally built this country and is a huge part of our collective memory and culture. It’s also telling that most First Nations initially welcomed the original explorers like Simon Fraser until the gold rush hordes overrode everything.

    The southern BC coast is one of the driest areas in Canada in summer. Gulf Islanders know this intimately and their concerns about supply and quality (the famous sulphuric odours of GI well water, the infiltration of septic field leachate into the aquifer …) have led many recently to store the abundant winter rain that falls on their roofs for year-round use. One company specializes in building large above-ground cisterns with charcoal filtration and UV treatment, allowing wells to be used only for gardening and emergencies.

    Consider that the 30-year average rainfall estimate at the Vancouver city hall weather station registers 89 cm/yr Oct-March, and that is expected to increase with more intense storms due to climate change.

    If everyone had conservation ethics like Gulf Islanders about water (and energy for that matter) the costs of centralized public infrastructure would go down.


    June 6, 2008 at 2:24 pm

  32. I was unaware that safe extraction of “offshore oil and gas” was part of any provincial mandate.
    No offense RIC —That area on the west coast which I am VERY FAMILIAR with is called “graveyard of the pacific” I personally believe it should be left alone,if there is to be a shift in energy use we don`t need to extract every drop. That goes for the arctic as well.
    Ships sink,human error,another exxon VALDEZ accident would doom that area for decades,maybe forever.
    Oh by the way, I thought I clarified my position as well.

    grant g

    June 6, 2008 at 3:11 pm

  33. Stephen,

    You better than anyone knows how much respect I hold for you and your intellect. Your opinion is one that I trust because you are very well informed. However, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

    If people in Vancouver kept thinking along those lines (e.g. “we don’t have water scarcity in Vancouver”) then our reservoirs would be quickly exhausted.

    Allow me to demonstrate that with data and a coherent argument (not over a blog comment). I’ll be more than happy to send you an academic paper I am currently writing on this topic, hoping I’ll persuade you that there is a need for Vancouverites to start conserving water.


    June 7, 2008 at 2:10 am

  34. OK I look forward to that but see also today’s Vancouver Sun

    An estimated 12 per cent of Vancouver’s water supplies are leaking out of aging pipes.

    “You get to the point where you spend more money to reduce a cubic metre of water loss than it’s worth,” said Stan Woods, Metro Vancouver’s senior utility planning engineer.

    The good news is that average per-capita water consumption (all categories, residential through industrial) in Metro Vancouver dropped to 519 litres per day in 2007 from 559 litres in 2006 and 728 litres in 1986.

    Some of the key factors include the installation of low-flow six-litre toilets instead of the old 20-litre types, water-efficient washing machines and bathroom fixtures, and public education.

    Lawn sprinkling restrictions, introduced 15 years ago for the peak summer period, are now an accepted part of urban living.

    And regional densification means more people are living in condos, townhouses, and on smaller lots, with little or no lawn to water.

    “It’s not necessarily behavioural changes,” Woods allowed. “But it’s reason for being optimistic about water efficiency in this region. People are living in water-efficient housing.”

    Stephen Rees

    June 7, 2008 at 7:20 am

  35. More on water–I agree with MR. REES on this one, Coquitlam(westwood plateau) when heavy rains come in that area it cascades from high to low to flood the basin,why ,too much asphalt,not being absorbed.
    All new housing(High rises wouldn`t work, as well)–Single detatched homes should be mandated to have very large underground cisterns to collect rain water. but the problem there is affordibilty.

    A good septic system costs about 40 thousand to install,I would assume a good large cistern would be the same or more.People are reeling as it is with cost of living.

    Another thought if a lot cost 50 thousand instead of 400.000 thousand people could be mandated to spend 200 to 300 thousand on greening it up(cisterns-geo thermal-solar-etc)
    People are not unlimited ATMs–Also if everyone had their own electricity,water supply,grew their own food etc, where would goverments get their money from?

    All goverments spending is out of control–I will clarify again that I am 100% against charging extra money for the use of water–Growing very weary of goverments creating new revenue streams only to squander(read PARKINSONS LAW)

    grant g

    June 7, 2008 at 10:06 am

  36. I am fine with getting a water meter, actually. This way, I know I am only paying for my own actual water usage, and the extra awareness can help me make better choices.

    There’s another concern that can lead to a rising cost in water supply. The delivery of tap water is by means of some power supply, right? Through BC Hydro, isn’t it? How will the rising cost of energy translate into the costs in sewage & water supplies?

    As ever, I am full of questions. Thanks to anyone who cares to supply an answer.


    June 18, 2008 at 9:41 am

  37. The reservoirs for our water in Greater Vancouver are different from those used for hydro generation. In fact 70% of the water collected by the GVRD is simply allowed to flow to the sea. Only 30 % is retained for our use. There are lots of ways we could use water better but most of them are prevented by the separation of management into single purpose agencies and municipal regulations and codes based on an earlier reality.

    There is a whole controversy on the use of our rivers for hydro – but that is a bit outside the scope of this blog

    Stephen Rees

    June 18, 2008 at 10:37 am

  38. I found your post particularily interesting, as I am now collecting rain water. It is mostly just for fun. I agree with you that it is kind of pointless to do so, given the aboundance of fresh water here in Canada (at least it is also true in Montreal where we pump from the St-Lawrence river).

    You may find my reasoning here (in French only, sorry):

    Here’s the photo album for my project:


    June 25, 2008 at 7:53 pm

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