This week the B.C. Water and Wastewater Association held its annual conference in Whistler with 1,300 water professionals from across the province taking part to discuss the state of the industry. They also drew attention to water issues throughout the province through Drinking Water Week.
The message of the conference was conservation and the need for British Columbians to cut back on their water usage.
"People think that we have lots of water in B.C. and that there's no need to conserve it, but they couldn't be more wrong about that," said Daisy Foster, CEO of the B.C. Water and Wastewater Association.
"We want to create awareness about the value of water and how important it is to conserve it - even in places where it gets taken for granted because we think we have a lot from the position of quantity and supply."
It's a timely message. Low snowpacks in the Interior have prompted water restrictions in the North Okanagan months earlier than normal. Water restrictions were also in place across the southern part of B.C. last year, including Vancouver Island and Whistler.
"What people forget is that even when they have a large supply it still costs a lot to get that water to the tap. A lot of people don't realize what a journey that is, and what's involved in that. There are infrastructure costs like treatment plants that are very expensive to build. It takes energy to pump water from treatment plants around the community. And then the other part is that when your water goes down the drain, it has to go somewhere and that process is very costly as well. The more water that goes down our drains the more we have to treat downstream."
While water metering is often suggested as the best way to get people to change their habits, Foster says that the cost is too high for many communities.
"We think that it's a very good thing to do and that all municipalities should have that on their list, but the reality is that there are a lot of different priorities and oftentimes there are things that a community will need more, like a new water treatment plant. The treatment, quality and quantity of water will always take priority (over metering) and there isn't a lot of money left over."
Some of the initiatives by the BCWWA include convincing municipalities to open their facilities to tours by schools and community groups so people gain an appreciation of how water gets to their taps and is treated after use. As well, they have created a program that targets school children to create awareness. They are also encouraging parents and teachers to talk to their children about water during Drinking Water Week. Materials are on their website at www.bcwwa.org.