Opinion » Maxed Out

Change course on this water decision



Owing to the design of the house in which I live up in Rainbow—maximum floor area in minimum footprint—I have what can generously be called an unusual plumbing layout. Tortured is probably a better adjective. Both cold and hot water flowing from my intake and hot water tank, respectively, travel through some 36 kilometres of piping before reaching my kitchen sink, notwithstanding the straight-line distance between intake and sink is only about 15 small steps. I exaggerate ... but only slightly. Maybe only 13 steps.

When I need hot water to, for example, wash dishes, I open the hot water tap and go read a book for several minutes while water travels from my hot water tank, up a wall, into a ceiling, up another floor, across the intervening stairway, down another wall, through another ceiling, down yet another wall and out my spigot. I figure roughly nine litres of water test the plumbing under my kitchen sink before the first traces of hot water emerge.

I've always believed one of the marvellous things about living here is the quality of our water. It used to be better before the federal government freaked out after people died drinking tap water in Walkerton, Ontario, and they began making municipalities treat all water as though it seeped through feedlots upstream, but it's still a luxurious treat. Icy cold, tastes great, and it doesn't come in a plastic bottle.

If I want a drink of cold tap water, I used to go into my laundry room. That's because the utility basin is one metre from the intake. If I'd waited at the kitchen sink for the water to get cold, the same nine litres of tepid water would have to drain through the 36 kilometres of pipe snaking through my walls and ceilings before cold water would emerge.

No more.

Now I simply leave the kitchen tap running all day long ... just in case I want a glass of cold water. I'm thinking about running it all night long too, just in case.

While that may seem, what's the word I'm looking for ... wasteful, it pales in comparison to the water wasted by commercial once-through cooling devices. Found in commercial kitchens and hotel ice machines throughout Tiny Town, these freeloading devices take advantage of that icy cold potable water provided by the municipality for some free cooling. Once the water has done its job, it flows merrily into the sewer system.

As reported in last week's Pique, a small-to-medium-sized system like this uses—excuse me, waste—about six litres of water per minute.

So what's council decided to do about this flagrant waste of an apparently scarce resource? Make the rest of us starve our landscaping, apparently.

Council has directed staff to begin developing a bylaw that will, someday far, far away, prohibit these abominations. Will they mandate existing systems be replaced? Apparently not. They want to prohibit new installations and grandfather existing ones until they reach the end of their "useful" lives.

Why not mandate businesses to replace them immediately? Or, say, within a year or two? To, "... minimize impacts to businesses ..."

If this were 2008 or 2009 I might understand this bending over backward to minimize the cost to businesses. But for most of the past decade, council has been doing everything in its power to bring more business to the resort. It's festivalized us to the point there are no weekend lulls and scant shoulder seasons. Business is thriving and has been for several years now. If you own a business in this town and you're struggling, you are either selling the wrong stuff or you're incompetent.

Oh, and if you think this council just discovered this once-through cooling scam, think again. This issue has been on the radar for years. But once again, it seems to be standard operating procedure to place the burden on the community through draconian watering restrictions rather than the real culprits.

For as long as I can remember, the muni had preached the gospel of best practices to justify replacing vehicles and equipment before they reach the end of their useful lives. Now they consider providing an incentive for businesses to not replace their water-sucking machines until they waste their last drop. In what universe does this make sense?

And while they fiddle over the single biggest water waster in town, they bring in let-them-die watering restrictions for residents and require the Nesters Crossing industrial park developers to install an amount of landscaping—which, of course will not use any water, right?—guaranteed to continue the rich tradition of making Whistler the butt of easy jokes.

This charade upholds the long-standing tradition our local government has of sucking and blowing on environmental issues. We talk a good green game but we're too timid to take even simple steps lest they inconvenience business. Like, say, a bylaw requiring businesses to close their freakin' doors during the winter instead of heating the great outdoors. Or banning outdoor heaters that burn fossil fuels instead of electric radiant heat or, better still, giving patrons who want to imbibe al fresco in the middle of winter buffalo blankets. Or banning bottled water. Or making green noise about plastics while planning to spend millions for a plastic soccer pitch. Or....

Instead, they embrace what a friend and former councillor calls the "bleeding edge" of enviro-chic. Like an expensive District Energy System that ends up costing Cheakamus Crossing homeowners—the very people who have invested their own life savings in social housing for the town—enough in maintenance and replacement costs to pay hydro bills for clean, green, simple baseboard heat for years. And throwing good money after bad, requiring future developments down there to be hooked up to the same faulty system.

And so, another plank or two gets nailed into the growing platform of the Campagne de Fous and a few more folks sign membership cards for the Never-Ending Party. At this rate we may have a slate by the time October comes around. No more free ride. No more asking everyone in town to do what we won't ask a few to do. All the animals are equal; but none are more equal than others in this sty.

I'd be remiss if I failed to single out councillor Steve Anderson for at least trying to get some conversation going about a sunset date for these grandfathered water wasters. As he pointed out, Vancouver has set 2019 as a deadline. Councillor Sue Maxwell—no relation—has also been a green thorn in the side of the status quo, as has AWARE for pointing out the suck to blow ratio of the proposed budget on environmental initiatives. The Party needs good people; people need a good party.