Sprinkler ban lifted 

Keeping water reserves up important for combating forest fires

Now that rain is starting to fall from the sky, residents can once again use their lawn water systems. On Wednesday afternoon, the Resort Municipality of Whistler lifted its sprinkler ban, although spokesperson Jessica Delaney said residents are still encouraged to conserve water.

Campfires and barbeques are also allowed, she said, as long as they are put out safely afterwards.

The sprinkler ban was put in place two weeks ago following a prolonged period of unusually hot, dry weather when the fire danger rating rose to extreme levels. At that time, it was crucial for the municipality to keep their water supply high in case more forest fires broke out near Whistler, said Delaney.

According to James Hallisey, the municipality's manager of environmental projects, sprinklers are the single biggest drain on the water system.

The municipality doesn't have any problem keeping up with the water supply on Christmas day, when 50,000 people are in town, he said.

On the other hand, in the summer when people are using their lawn sprinklers for two hours ever morning, the amount of water dramatically decreases.

While water levels haven't dipped down to "crisis" levels yet this summer, there have been days when the supply is close to being a problem, said Hallisey. For example, if a thunderstorm hit 21 Mile Creek, Whistler's largest water source, and the water became turbid, "we would be in a crisis by tonight."

"It is very dramatic," he said.

Water levels have dropped to crisis levels in previous summers. 

Part of the problem is the municipality's current water system can only handle 35,000 people, even though the overnight population sometimes swells to almost 60,000 people.

To address this issue, the municipality is upgrading its infrastructure in a multi-million dollar construction project expected to wrap up this month. Once these new systems come on board, Hallisey suspects water levels in Whistler will be more robust and he hopes sprinkler bans won't be instated in the future.

The helicopters and air tankers fighting the Blackcomb blazes didn't take water from the municipality's drinking reserves, but if the fire had spread down the mountain, firefighters would likely have tapped into Whistler's water supply, said Hallisey.

WB's water reserves hold 53 million gallons

Meanwhile, over at Whistler Blackcomb, Arthur DeJong said the snowmaking system was a strong tool in combating the Blackcomb blazes.

Whistler Blackcomb's water reserves hold about 53 million gallons and about half a million gallons were used to fight the fires.

"It (the snowmaking system) wasn't designed for fire fighting, but in the event of a fire, it becomes a central means of putting out a wild fire because it is all about water," said DeJong, environment resource manager.

"Only a minority of our runs overall have snowmaking, but in the event of fire fighting, we just plug into the closest snowmaking lines, which can be a couple of runs over."

DeJong added that if a fire ever broke out within the resort municipality, Whistler Blackcomb would also be able to use their snow making water in neighbourhoods near ski areas, like Creekside and the Benchlands.

He said water conservation is a priority for Whistler Blackcomb, since the more efficient they are with water, the smaller their carbon footprint is.  About a quarter of the company's energy use goes into water management and their snow making system.

He added, though, that while Whistler has an abundance of water, Whistler Blackcomb recognizes that globally water supply is a critical concern.

"The bottom line is we are going to throw anything we have to resolve a critical problem like fires, but our internal sustainability goal is a zero operating footprint that involves the most efficient use of water possible," said DeJong. "We are not there yet, but obviously we can make inroads in a number of areas."

Whistler Blackcomb collects their snow making water from streams throughout the mountains, including Fitzsimmon's Creek. Their drinking water, on the other hand, is collected from special water wells.

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