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Reworked Water Use Bylaw draws praise from stakeholders

Outdoor Potable Water Use Bylaw to be presented April 10



After months of revision, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is ready to present its new Water Use Bylaw—or part of it, at least.

The bylaw has been broken down to focus on different areas, with the first—the Outdoor Potable Water Use Bylaw—to be presented on April 10.

"You can try your best to put everything in the bylaw, like a Water Usage Bylaw ... that's what this was originally called, and it was going to cover everything," said utilities group manager Gillian Woodward at an open house on March 22.

"The tough part about that in our community, and many other communities, is that we have a lot of different water user types, and we do a lot of stakeholder engagement, but the stakeholders are all different."

What works for irrigation companies, for example, may not work for hotels or restaurants using once-through cooling (at its March 20 meeting, council authorized staff to start work on a different bylaw prohibiting such cooling systems).

The full text of the new outdoor potable bylaw won't be released until April 6, but attendees to the open house got a preview of new proposed watering restrictions (now called water conservation stages).

The new bylaw proposes four, colour-coded conservation stages (Green, Yellow, Red and Brown), with stage one being in effect year-round.

The RMOW will evaluate the levels in each of its 19 reservoirs weekly, and if it looks like available water is starting to drop below acceptable levels—enough water for firefighting purposes—stage restrictions will be considered.

RMOW parks staff will not be exempt from the bylaw, but an exemption has been included for sports fields.

"The language (in the bylaw) is, if we didn't take an extra half an hour to water the Spring Creek sports field and we were going to lose all of that turf, which has a significant cost to the community, then we would continue to water for the extra half hour," Woodward said.

An early draft of the bylaw last summer proposed a 25-per-cent reduction in allowed watering time, with 50 per cent of that being during daylight hours when watering is often inappropriate—causing consternation for irrigation companies and local green thumbs alike.

But the new approach seems to be hitting the right notes.

"We were very encouraged by the cooperation and support from municipal staff through this process. For the first time since the original bylaw was mandated, we feel engaged and our clients' concerns addressed," said Paul Hauschka of Whistler Irrigation, in an email.

"We hope it will be passed by council as drafted, and look forward to a more constructive water use environment for all."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she's heard similar comments from other stakeholders.

"I had a number of landscapers tell me that they thought the bylaw made sense, that they were very happy they'd been consulted throughout the process," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"I had homeowners who had raised objections last summer who were now happy. I spoke to some of our municipal staff who will be working with the bylaw, and they were very happy about it as well, so good news."

The bylaw will come to council for first readings at the April 10 meeting.