Water district moves to Level-4 restrictions

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North Salt Spring Waterworks District water users are now subject to Level-4 conservation restrictions.

Level 4 is the highest level of water restriction in the district. The Aug. 17 decision was made based on current conditions in St. Mary and Maxwell lakes, the short-term weather forecast and seasonal weather predictions from Environment Canada. With no rain in the forecast into September, the restriction could be in place for a few more months.

“It definitely could be a while,” said NSSWD environmental manager Meghan McKee on Tuesday. “The lake has to be well on its way to refilling before it will be lifted.”

The district has implemented strict watering restrictions since 2015 and reached Level 4 in both 2015 and 2016, but those years still saw more rain than Salt Spring has received this summer.

The NSSWD’s licence with the province allows the water level in St. Mary Lake to drop only to 40.0 metres above sea level before the district must apply for a licence amendment, which is an expensive process.

“We have to be really cautious to make sure that the level stays above 40.0 metres in St. Mary Lake until it starts to refill, which is honestly sometimes in November or December,” she said.

Under a Level-4 restriction, homes within the district can turn on micro or drip irrigation systems, or use a spring-loaded hose nozzle or hand-held container to water gardens and trees for a maximum of one hour per day on alternating days. Residents with even-numbered addresses are permitted to water on even-numbered days, and vice-versa. Watering gardens is allowed for one hour total per day between 5 and 10 a.m. or 5 and 10 p.m. on permitted days.

Uses like sprinkling, vehicle and boat washing, washing driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and buildings, filling pools and ponds, and watering public parks, sports fields and open spaces are not permitted.

“Water restrictions really apply to outdoor water, but in a Level-4 drought we would encourage everybody, as the provincial government is doing, to minimize their indoor water use as well, so take shorter showers, turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth and washing dishes, just do all the small things that you can,” she said.

The restriction also affects commercial businesses like car washes that are located within the waterworks district.

This has been a particularly dry summer for the region. Other water districts on Salt Spring have been affected by the dry spell, with the usual seasonal restrictions in place for Cedar Lane and Cedars of Tuam water districts, for example. Ralph Dom, the chair of Cedar Lane Water Service Commission, said the district is recommending “total minimal water use at this point, because the well levels are very low.”

Dan Robson, Capital Regional District operations manager in charge of local CRD water district matters, said the CRD has been putting out signboards informing residents about ways to save water.

“The province is going into Level-2, 3 and 4 drought conditions, so we’re putting that out on a regular basis now annually,” Robson said.

The provincial government declared a Level-4 drought level on East Vancouver Island last week. This rating is separate from the water restriction rating used by the NSSWD, but the information provided by the government factors into their decision.

“We’re at less than three per cent of our normal summer rainfall,” McKee said. “I don’t [know of a] year where we’ve had such little rainfall in July and August.”

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