Rainwater capture feasible, but not economically feasible 

A municipal report found that new infrastructure would be too costly for the return

While rainwater capture might be feasible in Whistler it is certainly not economically viable.

Whistler has some of the lowest water costs in the province, so the payback time for the costly capture infrastructure for single-family homes - about $5,000 for the technology and installation - would be quite a long time, according to Nicolette Richer, environmental coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"As of right now, no, it is not financially feasible, however that could change as well," she said, noting that it could be feasible if Whistler moved to value-based pricing.

She added that it is still important for Whistler to start considering building infrastructure in the future for rainwater capture.

"We do need to consider water conservation," Richer said. "Since the building code doesn't mandate rainwater capture but does allow for it, it's good to have municipalities consider this as an option and Whistler's regards to infrastructure and the way we're going to build buildings, think five, 10, 15 and 20 years out."

The RMOW conducted a study, paid for through a Ministry of Community and Rural Development Infrastructure grant, to test the viability for rainwater harvesting in town. The prevailing thought was that because Whistler is loaded with snow and other natural water resources, harvesting technology wouldn't be viable, but the study found that it is "very viable," according to Richer.

She noted that a 3,000-litre cistern would accommodate 100 per cent of the household's flushing needs as well as some irrigation needs. It would also save the municipality in water treatment costs, and would place fewer burdens on the municipal potable water supply.

Richer noted in her Jan. 26 report to council that water consumption has been rising steadily over the last three years, with each person using about 580 litres per day - 155 litres more than the Whistler2020 target of 425 litres per person per day.

She told Pique that there has been much support and enthusiasm from the provincial government to mandate municipal rainwater harvesting. The BC Building Code states it will mandate purple pipes for new homes - meaning they would be set up for rainwater capture and reuse - by 2016. The change was supposed to be implemented by October 2011 but was stalled because of changes to the energy efficiency requirements in buildings first.

The province has still been promoting the use of non-potable water systems by offering future funding incentives to municipalities that prove their operations are linked to reducing environmental impacts, including reducing potable water consumption.

Richer said that the province will also start monitoring households for water consumption, so the RMOW will have a better understanding of how the Whistler community is using its water

The study focused only on single-family dwellings and did not address a municipal water supply to aid firefighting in the dry summer seasons, particularly in August and September, which concerned Councillor Eckhard Zeidler at the Jan. 26 council meeting.

"Knowing that we don't get that much rainfall in the middle of summer, a municipal collection system would probably require tremendous storage capacity to store from earlier on in the season," he said.

He said that the municipality would need the maximum, most robust system possible for fire protection during the summer months and is wondering how the municipality could get away from that if the RMOW got into rainwater capture.

"We'd need huge amounts of storage, so from a municipal perspective, for rainwater harvesting, I'm trying to see if there's any future from a municipal water supply perspective or if this is really something that would work for individual structures or multi-family dwellings."

Richer told Pique she's not sure whether that's how the RMOW will use harvested rainwater.

She noted, however, that there have been increasing requests from builders and homeowners for rainwater harvesting technology to be built into new and renovated homes. There is currently one home being built in Rainbow with the technology.

"We need to determine how we're going to go about approving projects like this if more and more people start asking about it," she said.




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