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Whistler2020 on the Ground

Fire and Water: Changing Whistler’s Ways

RMOW Environmental Coordinator

The interface forest fire raging around West Kelowna right now may seem distant, but the reality of living in a bone-dry forest environment exists in every Whistler backyard.

The British Columbia Forest Service announced early this week the conditions in Sea to Sky Forests are as dry as those around Kelowna and the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation in our region has created perfect conditions for forest fire potential in and around Whistler. Any time we talk about fire, we also need to talk about water - a resource needing conservation every day of the year, hot or not.

Whistler's Fire Danger Rating Notice has been "High" for most of this summer. As of July 17 that rating went to "Extreme," meaning no fires are allowed. In parks, no open flames such as torches and briquette or wood barbecues are allowed. Propane barbecues may be used only if they are not on the grass and are not near any trees (the propane barbecue would be on a stand or of a commercial or household design). In residential areas no wood barbecues are allowed. Propane or briquette barbecues may be used only if they are used in a safe manner and have proper clearance from structures and meet municipal regulatory requirements.

Now what about your lawn? Not a single Whistler resident or business would want to receive a $2,000 fine for failing to comply with posted water restrictions, better known as the "Sprinkler Bylaw" 1538, 2001. Unfortunately, most Whistlerites may not be aware that during the dates when this bylaw is in effect, June 1 to Sept. 1, the capacity to fight fires within municipal boundaries is critically diminished.

Water is one of the most fundamental ingredients of modern civilization, the other being energy. And water has no substitutes in most of its uses; especially when it comes to fighting fires. The time has come for us to start making responsible water-use decisions, especially during the hot summer months; a period that sees excessive amounts of water being taken out of the reservoirs due to sprinkling and not enough water going back in due to dry weather conditions.

In a region that receives significant rainfall in an already water-rich community, it is challenging to accept the fact that our overly consumptive water habits need to change.

However, better understanding of our assumptions around water and awareness of innovative water-saving alternatives will help Whistler residents reduce wasteful water use during the hot summer months, allowing this liquid-gold to be readily available during times of high-fire warnings.

Leaky Assumptions

It is easy to believe that clean, sustainable water is an infinite commodity in and around Whistler. But consider for a moment that rain must be stored for the drier summer months. About 70 per cent of the rain falls in autumn and winter, yet the peak of our water consumption happens in the summer, when river, stream and lake levels are at their lowest. Another assumption is that storage capacity is infinite, yet both water and a municipality's ability to store water are finite - both have their limits. Once that storage is full, remaining snowmelt and rain cannot be captured for later use, when demand is high due to people watering lawns, washing cars, or even washing sidewalks and driveways.

According to the Whistler2020 Monitoring Report presented to RMOW Council Tuesday, Whistler citizens are pure and simple water wasters. Per capita daily water use was 575 litres/person/day in 2008 and substantially above Whistler's recommended target of 425 litres/day and much higher than the Canadian average of 335 litres/person/day. In 2008, Whistler treated and sent out approximately 5.16 billion litres of potable water, while RMOW irrigation with non-potable well water represented .183 billion litres or 3.4 per cent of reported water use.

The three-year average results increased 3.2 per cent while the year over year results increased by 8 per cent. Results for 2008 reported the second highest water use in the past 10 years and the third highest per capita water use results over that same period.

It's not cool to be wasting water when it's hot. Water conservation is not solely an individual project, but also a collective effort that could save you from a $2,000 fine and more importantly, save your community from the next water drought and potential fire fighting hazard. Don't waste a drop!

Get Dry: alternatives to water wasting

The time of water abundance is over and we cannot afford to waste water - the safety of our municipality needs to be considered. By taking either a leadership approach this coming year or by sitting back and waiting for regulations to enforce this change, we can reduce our wasteful water-ways. Starting today, consider learning more about the following water conservation techniques to allow you to meet water conservation goals for the remainder of the summer and beyond:

1. Start to know your water footprint and be a leader in reducing water-intensive consumption patterns.

2. Use only water-efficient appliances and faucets and only use appliances when they are full.

3. Practice keeping a jug of water in the fridge instead of running the tap for cold water.

4. Practice taking shorter showers and don't let the tap run when rinsing dishes, washing fruits and veggies, brushing teeth and shaving.

5. Replace your 13-20 litres per flush toilet with an ultra low-flush (3-6 litres per flush) model or dual flush model.

6. Learn more about Xeri-scaping, installing rain catchers, building your own rain barrel, mulching and soaker hoses. (Xeriscape is an attractive sustainable landscape that is water wise and is based on sound horticultural practices.)

7. Get creative and share your water conservation ideas with me at

To learn more about actions which are moving Whistler toward our 2020 vision, or to get involved, go to