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RMOW prepares for summer water crisis

But new sources should alleviate need to use fire fighting water this year

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Water never seems to be a problem in Whistler, even on the long, hot days of summer.

But while residents have come to expect the flow of H 2 0 out their taps, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is now acknowledging it has struggled in past years to supply water to the community throughout the sunny season.

One general manager even went as far as to call the situation a borderline crisis.

"We have been running close to a crisis situation in terms of water supply during the summer months," said Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the RMOW.

"It is not that there is lack of water. It is the infrastructure that is required to provide safe, abundant water."

The issue dates back 30 years to when Whistler's water system was built. City planners at that time never thought Whistler would grow into a community serving 60,000 residents and tourists and they designed a utility fit for 35,000.

Barnett said it has been tough finding new ground water sources in Whistler because there is very little natural water storage in the valley, even though Whistler is technically in the coastal rainforest.

But as Whistler has bloomed over the years, the system has felt the pressure. The problem has been so acute in recent summers that municipal workers have started taking water reserved for fire fighting to supply the community's daily needs.

"There are reservoirs scattered around the hills around Whistler, and they are basically a big storage of water in case there is a fire," said Barnett.

"You don't want to be tapping into that water in case there is a fire, but we have had to do that because there has not been enough supply, and we haven't been able to distribute the water."

He added the biggest problems have occurred during long, dry, hot spells, when a large amount of water is used for irrigation.

But this summer - as temperatures heat up and the threat of forest forests moves from green to red - more water should be available, said Barnett.

After years of work, the municipality plans to add two new water sources by the end of this summer: one at Rainbow Park and one in Function Junction.

"We have been looking for additional water supplies for several years," said Barnett, adding that the municipality decided for financial reasons to go with groundwater over surface water.

"We found lots of underground water sources, but they rarely meet the drinking water standards. A couple years ago, we did some test wells in the Rainbow Park area and we came up with a relatively large volume of good quality water. We are starting to develop that now.

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