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'Unprecedented situation' could lead to water woes

Residents urged to conserve water as hot, dry weather strains supply



As wildfires rage and hot, dry conditions persist, there is concern for Whistler's water supply — but not to the point of alarm just yet.

In a presentation to the Committee of the Whole on July 7, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) utilities group manager Michael Day outlined the current situation for mayor, council and staff.

"The idea here is to make sure that council and the community is fully informed of staff's perspective and concerns over the reliability of that supply and to ensure that there are no surprises for anybody — that if in fact we run in to any kind of trouble everyone's got lots of time or warning," Day said.

The municipality isn't in trouble — yet — but weeks of hot weather and a lower-than-average snowpack have put pressure on 21 Mile Creek, Whistler's main source of drinking water.

"Record low stream flows are possible," Day said. "It's not that they're likely, it's not that they're going to happen, but they're certainly possible."

Whistler has lots of water for now, Day said, but noted that consumption levels have skyrocketed this summer.

On average, Whistler used about 450,000m3 of water in the month of June between 2011 and 2014.

In June of 2015, water consumption rose to nearly 700,000m3.

Add to that a lack of rain — the average June rainfall is about 60mm while this June Whistler saw about 11mm — and a low snowpack from a forgettable winter season and things could get serious by the end of the summer.

"If we lose our 21 Mile Creek supply... well, essentially the reservoirs are going to empty and we're not going to just lose our 24-hour balancing storage, we'll be into our fire storage," Day said. "That's the big concern."

Rather than use a giant, man-made lake for a reservoir like the Capilano Reservoir in Vancouver, Whistler's water supply is backed by several small, concrete storage reservoirs, Day said.

Eighty per cent of the water in those reservoirs is designated for fighting forest fires.

After hearing the presentation Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she was shocked.

"I've sat here over the years when we authorized the spending of millions of dollars upgrading the 21 Mile Creek intake with the view that it was an endless supply forever," she said.

"I have to say I'm shocked to hear this, and I understand it's unprecedented, but people need to know — not just that it's hot, not just that it's dry, but that our water supply is a concern."

The RMOW enacted Level One sprinkling restrictions in early June.

To further conserve water, Day said the RMOW could suspend more maintenance programs and further reduce or stop irrigation to plants in the Village.

There's also the possibility further sprinkling restrictions could be put in place, with stricter enforcement from the RMOW.

"If we must go to Level Two, it does signal that we are entering into a crisis period," said RMOW manager of infrastructure services Joe Paul.

"And if we're entering a crisis period and we have to implement Level Two, we will have bylaw enforcement. That goes hand in hand with that."


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