Water use in Whistler continues to rise 

contract awarded for new well

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE - AT THE SOURCE Rob Peebles, chief operator for the RMOW utilities department, surveys 21-Mile Creek last summer.
  • File photo by Clare Ogilvie
  • AT THE SOURCE Rob Peebles, chief operator for the RMOW utilities department, surveys 21-Mile Creek last summer.

Whistler's water use was well above its 2015 targets for much of last year, and so far 2016 has followed suit.

"So 2015 was a big water-use year," said Michael Day, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) utilities manger, in a report to council on June 21.

"Well, 2016 so far has been even bigger."

In 2015, the RMOW consumed 5,642,734 cubic metres of water, up from 5,361,797 in 2014.

But 2015 was, of course, one of the busiest years on record, so it's hard to determine if the trend will level out or if it's here to stay.

"At this point the jury is out," Day said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how we do for water consumption through the summer."

While water production and use has grown each year since 2011, per capita use had actually been decreasing until that trend reversed last year, too.

Costs associated with per capita use also increased last year, due largely to high demand and increases to BC Hydro rates, Day said.

The municipality undertook several measures to address demand during drought periods last summer, Day said.

"We cancelled our unidirectional flushing program and the staff were reallocated instead to do irrigation monitoring and outreach," he said, noting that for the most part people were cooperative, and the RMOW only issued two tickets.

Level 2 watering restrictions were introduced, and the Parks department reduced irrigation in lower priority areas.

Day was before council to present the RMOW's 2015-16 drinking water report, which gave an update on Whistler's two main water systems, known as Community and Emerald.

Both systems are operated under permits issued by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

Two conditions of the Community permit were completed in 2015: implementing a cross-connection control plan and the development of a 21-Mile Creek Source Water Protection Plan.

The Emerald system has its own set of conditions.

"The big one has been an ongoing one, which is to confirm whether one of the wells in the Emerald system is what's called GUDI (Groundwater Under Direct Influence of surface water)," Day said.

A new regulation around water sources is also at play: GARP (Groundwater at Risk of Pathogens), which is directly concerned with the potential of giardia and cryptosporidium — protozoa that can cause major health outbreaks — getting into wells.

As of 2015, all three wells in the Emerald system are determined to be both GUDI and GARP.

"As a result of that, (VCH) requested that we maintain a much higher chlorine residual in Emerald through 2015, and on an ongoing basis, until we can implement Ultraviolet light disinfection," Day said.

The RMOW has been doing rigorous measurements out to the farthest extent of the distribution system three times a week, Day said, with no reports of any infections.

The condition in Emerald is nothing new, but now the RMOW knows for sure that there is the potential for pathogens entering the wells. The RMOW has undertaken the design for a UV system with the goal of implementing it next year.

"And that is acceptable to the regulator," Day said.

In the Community system, almost 500 bacterial samples were taken in 2015, none of which had e.coli or fecal coliforms.

Emerald, a smaller system, had 51 bacterial samples taken last year, with no e.coli, fecal or total coliforms found.

The RMOW did extensive additional testing for giardia and cryptosporidium in the Emerald system, but found none.

"Overall we are deemed to have good water quality, which is wonderful, and that is in keeping with our history," Day said.

As for concerns around water usage, discussions are underway with stakeholders — irrigation and landscaping companies, strata-management companies and large hotels — regarding irrigation practices in the resort, and what can be done to improve the RMOW's water-use bylaw.

At the June 21 meeting, council gave Day the authority to launch a site-specific irrigation management pilot project.

Under the project, approved irrigation systems and plantings would be exempt from the normal watering use bylaw (though they would still be governed by other rules) and essentially those lawns would have a science-based water budget, based on the actual transpiration index.

"What that really is talking about is how much water do the plants really need," Day said.

"It would be metered so we'd understand what the loading on the system was, (and) they'd be rain sensor and timer controlled."

CONTRACT AWARDED FOR NEW RAINBOW PARK WELL and PUMP station repair

Also at the June 21 meeting, council issued a contract in the amount of $1.1 million to CHB Services for the 2016 Rainbow Park well installation and repairs and upgrades to the Alta Lake Road pump station.

The major objective of the project is to increase the RMOW's emergency peak water supply, Day said in a presentation to council.

"Basically, putting in this second well will increase Rainbow Park emergency flow from 75 to about 140 litres per second," he said.

"So that's a significant increase in peak flow, and that would be a significant increase in total water supply available, particularly to the central area of the community."

Having a second well will also allow the RMOW to service its existing well without shutting off the water supply, which it hasn't been able to do in recent years.

"In a major and extended drought situation we wouldn't really be in a position to take it offline, and (by not servicing it) we'd increase the potential of just losing the water source," Day said.

The new well would also increase the RMOW's capability to fight fires behind Rainbow Park.

Under new provincial regulations, however, the municipality won't be able to use both wells at once without first completing an Environmental Assessment (EA) — though preliminary work for that has been underway for some time, noted general manager of infrastructure James Hallisey.

"We've actually spent six years of data-gathering already out there to develop all the background information needed for that EA," Hallisey said, adding that even without the EA, the new well will provide value to the municipality.

"Because the current well is essentially a critical piece of infrastructure, one mechanical or electrical problem with it in the middle of last summer would have really put us in a bad situation," he said.

"Having two wells there...we'll have basically a spare installed, which is really the best practice that we'd like to see for a piece of infrastructure that is critical."

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