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Proposed water use regulation update causes concern

Whistler Irrigation's appeal to clients sends RMOW back to the drawing board

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A local irrigation company is raising concerns about a proposed update to Whistler's water-use regulations.

The proposed changes amount to a 25-per-cent reduction in allowed watering time, with 50 per cent of that being during daylight hours when watering is often inappropriate, said Paul Hauschka of Whistler Irrigation. The new restrictions would also limit watering to two days a week.

"The big change is that currently the restrictions apply to lawn areas only, that means you can water when necessary for flowerbeds, trees, shrubs, those types of things," Hauschka said. "Now the lawn areas, two days a week, we can barely keep them alive as it is, and often they go brown, except for in the village core where the municipality has exempted themselves.

"The bottom line is that (at) two days a week, flowers, annuals, perennials, they will not survive, and a lot of trees and shrubs will not survive in this kind of climate," he added.

For homeowners and stratas that have invested thousands into landscaping, the proposed changes are concerning.

"We're in a position where the lawn and planting has been in for just a little over a month... We've spent several thousand dollars on landscaping, and the last thing we want to worry about is the landscaping dying," said Joe Redmond, one of Whistler Irrigation's clients.

Redmond says he doesn't believe the water use by residential homeowners is very high, and that they shouldn't be lumped in with commercial properties like hotels.

"It seems to me one of the first things the municipality should be looking at is what portion of that water usage comes from residents, and what comes from hotels and commercial," he said. "(The hotels) need that amount of water, probably, but it's a little unfair to say we've got to get the restriction from the residents, because we probably use less than 10 per cent of the water, so even if we reduced our water 100 per cent, it wouldn't have an effect on the gross water usage in Whistler."

Hauschka said he first learned of the update in May, a few days before it was to be considered by council. After discussing it with the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) engineering department, the bylaw was shelved, Hauschka said.

"And then we didn't hear anything until we were discussing with some of the engineering people recently some water restriction issues," he said. "They referred us to the 2018 proposed bylaw on their website, and that it was going to be coming into effect in January of 2018."

Whistler Irrigation sent a notice to its clients — of which it has more than 1,000 — advising them of the changes, and asking them to raise the issue with the RMOW.

The appeal had the intended effect.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she received "at least 50 emails" on the subject.

"I'm very well aware (of the concerns), and I'll be frank — I've got an irrigation system in my own property, and we just installed it last fall... gardening is a major hobby for me and it's a real priority, so I absolutely understand what these people are concerned about," she said. "I've got the same concerns, so we will address all of the concerns and do something that's not going to jeopardize people's landscaping or gardens."

The bylaw will be workshopped this September and more public consultations will be undertaken before it comes to a council vote later this fall, the mayor added.

There is no dire shortage of water coming down the pipe for Whistler, but water conservation is a big priority for council, Wilhelm-Morden said.

Ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the resort have made water conservation a challenge, and when it comes down to it, everyone will be expected to do their part.

Whistler is currently under Level One sprinkling restrictions, meaning even numbered addresses may water lawns Thursday and Sunday from 4 to 9 a.m. and 7 to 10 p.m., and odd addresses may water Wednesday and Saturday during the same hours. There is currently no restriction on watering gardens.

For more on the proposed update, including a Frequently Asked Questions section, head to www.whistler.ca/services/water-and-wastewater/water/sprinkling-regulations.

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