A perfect match for life 

World Water Day: your chance to show a little respect

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Seventy per cent of me and 70 per cent of you is made up of water.

Seventy per cent of this amazing planet we live on is covered in water.

Of all the fresh water on Earth, 70 per cent goes to agriculture. Of that portion, 70 per cent is used to produce meat.

Even if you were a magician, you couldn't conjure up better correlations for thinking about water.

Saturday, March 22, is World Water Day so I've been thinking a lot about water lately. March 22 has been World Water Day going back to 1993 when the U.N. declared it to celebrate and raise awareness about this most precious substance that is the heart of life itself.

But it's usually other places that mark Water Day — places with some of the 780 million people who don't have a drop of clean drinking water — even though worldwide the fresh water loop is closed and we're drawing down fresh water resources faster than ever. This is scarier than the end of oil. For oil, we have work-arounds: batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, solar and wind power. There's no work-around for water.

Canada — not even Whistler with its Whistler 2020 sustainability vision — keeps Water Day much in mind. It seems if we think about water at all, it's usually in the most wrong-minded, pig-headed ways.

When I was in Japan years ago, I stayed with a family who often visited Canada and hosted Canadians in their home to reciprocate. I landed on a steamy August night, took a shower — a perfectly normal shower— and popped on some fresh clothes. After "freshening up" I ran into my host who smiled and said mildly, "Canadians use a lot of water."

A lot of Australians live in Whistler. Next time you're out with your Aussie pals, ask them what they think about water use here. I bet you your next round of beer they're shocked. Right now, 80 per cent of Queensland is drought-declared, this after record drought and temperatures of 45-48 C that seared central and eastern Oz last year. And the year before. Australian farmers are killing themselves, their land is so withered and worthless.

Closer to our circle of tribal interest, we have California, home to 100 per cent of the nuts eaten in North America and most of the fresh fruits and veggies we eat in B.C. California is shriveling with its worst drought in 500 years.

When you're from a place where the heartland is burning out, you think about water differently. But here in Canada, we're water hogs. And Whistler is one of the biggest of them all.

Canadians, on average, use about twice as much water as someone in France. And British Columbians use even more water than the national average.

But I wanted to find out where Whistler stood in the water table, so I dialed up Cheeying Ho, executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. Despite Whistler 2020 — the resort's sustainability vision, which is aligned with the science-based Natural Step principles — the picture is hugely disappointing.

"We've historically done really badly with our water usage — it has not been good," she says. "Either it's staying the same or it's been trending in the wrong direction, so it's not improving."

Whistler, shamefully, is one of the highest water-consuming communities in Canada. The average consumption in 2011, was 536 litres per person per day. In 2009, that figure was 568 litres, double the average for Banff the same year (282 litres of water / person / day). And, yes, that's comparing apples with apples: both places factor in the huge number of visitors they host as popular mountain destinations.

But water isn't the only thing at stake. "Our water usage is linked to our energy usage through showers and hot tubs, and things like that, so often the higher our water usage, the higher our energy usage. So that's a big issue, too" Cheeying adds.

Bare bones, you need three to five litres of water a day for drinking, and 20 litres a day for cooking, bathing and basic cleaning. So why is Whistler such a water hog?

There's all that irrigation for golf courses and hotels and condos that love greenery, even in the dead of summer, even when they're urged to plant drought-tolerant plants. There's all that snowmaking in winter. The local brewery uses a ton of water. And every bar, restaurant and hotel is using water-based systems for refrigeration and cooling, when air-based ones would do as well, thank you very much.

People wash their cars mindlessly; water their lawn when it should be brown; don't install low-flush toilets; run the dishwater half empty. Then there's the "luxury" factor. We like our hot tubs and long, lazy showers (A shout out to the Westin Resort & Spa for resisting the thoughtless tide of two showerheads per shower stall and still delivering a top experience). And we all like using those white fluffy hotel towels — once.

"I know the trend for Whistler water use is moving in the wrong direction," says Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "I wonder if, to a certain extent, it's because we're surrounded physically in Whistler by so many lakes, streams and rivers it appears there's an abundance of water, plus we live in what has been, historically, a wet climate so water and water conservation isn't top of mind for residents and visitors alike."

Even so, she says, the municipality continues to focus on conserving and protecting water through infrastructure improvements like replacing aging water main pipes to help stop the nearly 28 per cent of municipal water lost through leaks.

Yes, Whistler has wise guidelines in place — like the Whistler 2020 water goals — and even bylaws to protect Whistler's water. But it all goes down the drain when we don't stop to think how valuable water really is.


Potable water the RMOW produced in 2012: 5.3 billion litres

Wastewater Whistler treated in 2012: 4.8 billion litres

Sewage Metro Vancouver generates annually: 449 billion litres

Water lost annually at Whistler due to water pipe leaks: 1.5 billion litres (27.6 per cent)

Vancouver water loss from pipe leaks: 11 per cent

Total length of water main pipes in Whistler: 130 km

In Vancouver: 1,450 km

Total length of sewage pipes in Whistler: 106 km

In Vancouver: 2,800 km

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who watches her water.

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