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Letter: Whistler ‘needs to do better’ on water-use bylaw

'We need to do better! Together. As a community, for our community'
New irrigation schedules will help create “recovery periods” for municipal water reservoirs.

A version of this letter was sent to Whistler’s mayor and council, and shared with Pique.

This letter is to express disappointment after council approved a new water-use bylaw on March 19 (see Pique, March 22: “Whistler tinkers with water restriction stages”). The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) missed the opportunity to consult and failed to access knowledge of the horticulture industry.

The bylaw reduces watering of landscapes to every other day from May 1 to Oct. 31.

This is acceptable for established landscapes. To clarify, we in the industry are not against water conservation.

We understand water is a valuable resource, and the frequency of hot, dry summers will increase. We work in it, and understand reality. We understand horticulture. We want to do this right, but weren’t allowed.

Specific concerns are related to timing, as well as the impact on new landscaping projects, repairs, and hanging baskets/containers.

May 1 is standard in some jurisdictions, but Whistler is just getting started then. This is the time to keep moisture in the ground, and give plants a good start for the hot summer.

If we truly want to conserve water, we must use it efficiently where needed for the biggest impact. We can only plant during our short season.

Repairs and new landscapes simply cannot be done with watering every other day. We have to repair damaged lawns where snowplows and winter weather have caused damage. This is not possible without cumbersome permits now.

Containers/hanging baskets require watering to keep plants and soil(!) healthy. Many containers are used for edibles, offsetting expensive food bills.

While allowed hand/drip irrigation, they are often connected to automatic irrigation systems, designed to water efficiently at ideal times. If professionally installed and maintained, with rain-sensors, sprinkler heads that use less water, and valves to hold water, they save up to 50 per cent of water. Why not allow exemptions with water-reduction measures to actually conserve water?

Hand-watering is done during daytime, often spilling water. If not watered regularly, water will run through dry soil and truly waste water. If watered regularly, we can water with small amounts.

We ask that the bylaw start July 1 and allow exemptions for repairs and new installations, as well as hanging baskets/containers to be watered as needed—with automatic irrigation in place.

With regard to FireSmart: Dry plants will pose a fire danger. Dry soil and plants will not help cool our environment, and will increase the risk for fire.

There cannot be fearmongering that watering your garden is bad! Healthy plants help us with fire prevention. They help keep our environment cooler, keep moisture in the air, provide oxygen, filter the air. Soils and plants sequester carbon and feed pollinators, but only if they are healthy and watered.

There is much more, and horticulture is complex. We are here to help to truly conserve water. The new bylaw doesn’t avoid wasting water.

We need to do better! Together. As a community, for our community.

On behalf of the horticulture industry and Whistler’s environment,

Heike Stippler // Heike Designs, Whistler