COLUMN: Water issues still challenge Nelson

Councillor Valerie Warmington on city hall's approach to low water levels.

Now that cooler temperatures have arrived along with some rainfall, it may surprise residents that the City of Nelson continues to operate with Level 4 water restrictions in effect.

These restrictions prohibit any use of running water outdoors including car washing, exterior house or window washing. The restrictions also call on residents to conserve such that indoor water usage is decreased by at least 20 per cent.

The city has yet to impose penalties for non-compliance with water restrictions and is hopeful that conservation goals will be achieved and sustained without doing so. To raise awareness and assist residents in implementing water conservation the city has offered free shower timers and toilet tank banks that reduce water use per flush but there are many other simple and creative ways for people to reduce water usage.

Because Nelson is situated on a lake which in turn is part of a larger water system, some residents express confusion about the water restrictions. Few people are aware that at the end of August, flows in area creeks dropped to as low as 20 per cent of normal making this year’s discharges the lowest on record (2003 was previous low record).

Annual precipitation has also been well below average and long-range forecasts suggest lower than usual precipitation through fall and winter. Low precipitation and low creek discharge caused city reservoir levels to steadily decrease during the summer. By the end of October, Nelson’s reservoirs were at 25 per cent of capacity even though serious leaks in the system had been fixed as part of the City’s ongoing infrastructure upgrades.

While current reservoir levels are sufficient to meet water demand in Nelson if we receive enough precipitation to sustain natural water discharges at current or higher levels over the next few months, we cannot know the future and so have planned for a less-than-optimal outcome.

The city has a contingency plan to augment municipal water supplies should it become necessary and is looking at longer-term options to capture more water during spring freshet to meet demand at drier times of the year.

Options are being considered whereby some uses are shifted from the existing municipal system to draw from the lake or from groundwater supplies. Most available options are expensive and some, in particular shifting to groundwater sources, may prove less viable than anticipated as there are suggestions that groundwater use in our region is already unsustainable.

This summer, some RDCK residential water license holders received letters from the province advising them of exceptionally low water levels, calling for 30 per cent reductions in water usage and the identification of alternative sources of drinking water in case of further water decline.

At several conferences this year, municipal officials and scientists discussed altered precipitation patterns and changing natural water flows in the context of global warming. Experts now suggest that beyond mitigating climate change by moving quickly to a renewable, non-carbon based energy economy, we must also quickly rise to the task of adapting to the practical realities of an already changing climate.

While elected officials struggle with questions of infrastructure to deal with these realities, it is critical that citizens do their part, not just as conserving individuals, but also as visible members of a movement for change. One such opportunity is coming up.

At 1 p.m. on Nov. 29, I urge you to join others at the foot of Baker St. to “Walk with the World” as a way of sending a message of support and urgency to global leaders reopening discussions on climate change in Paris the following day. For more information go to walkwiththeworld.ca

Nelson city councillor Valerie Warmington shares this space weekly with her council colleagues.

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