Sunday, September 24, 2023
September 24, 2023

Water district moves to enforce restrictions

As the region enters its most severe drought condition — and as another wildfire milestone is passed, with 1.5-million hectares burned in B.C. — Salt Spring Island’s largest water provider is putting customers on notice that it will be enforcing its watering restrictions this summer. 

Trustees at the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) voted to engage the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) planning department to establish a one-month contract for bylaw enforcement of NSSWD’s watering restrictions, a pilot project aimed at conserving water used for drinking, watering and — in emergencies — fire protection. 

The East Vancouver Island Basin, which includes the Gulf Islands, sits at Drought Level 5 — a condition where adverse impacts from low water availability are “almost certain,” according to the province. And as Environment Canada’s forecasting indicates yet another warming trend without any hints of rain, July 2023 ended ranking among the driest in Salt Spring’s history.   

The two days of much-appreciated rain last week dropped just 17mm of precipitation onto St. Mary Lake, according to NSSWD operations manager Ryan Moray — welcome for sure, but not enough to bend the curve.  

“That’s not going to be enough to carry us through,” said Moray. “We’re still in a drought condition.” 

And while lake levels have been lower at this time in some recent years, that dryness is having an impact on the rate of depletion. The speed at which reservoirs are drained has a lot to do with how much rain is — or isn’t — falling at a particular moment, Moray said; when there’s less rain, people water more.  

That needs to change, according to district officials, and an experiment with enforcement began Monday, Aug. 7 — three days after the district enters Stage 4 of watering restrictions, its highest level. 

“It’s a fairly comprehensive outdoor water use ban,” said financial officer Tammy Lannan, who outlined the basics at the district board’s July 27 meeting. “So no car washing, no lawn watering, no parks, no fields. No filling pools, no topping-up a pool. Literally all you can do is water your garden — and you can’t sprinkle, you can only hand-water and micro-drip. And it’s only for two hours, every second day.” 

Enforcement will start out emphasizing education, according to Lannan, and will initially be aimed toward high-consumption residential customers. Those users — many with bills reflecting 30,000 gallons of water or more in a single bimonthly period — can expect to be contacted, but the idea is not to start handing out fines for every infraction, she said, as much as to get everyone on the same page, water-conservation-wise. 

“The bylaw officer will spend maybe 30 minutes with them to discuss their habits and watering uses,” said Lannan, “and try to work with them one-on-one to help ensure they’re following the watering restrictions.” 

District manager Mark Boysen said NSSWD is part of the Capital Regional District (CRD) drought management working group, which is having weekly meetings “from an emergency operations perspective.” 

“And they’re aligning the CRD restrictions for the island to ours,” said Boysen. “They’re going to put their highest restriction level — which is Stage 3 for them — in place Aug. 4.” 

This has been the fourth year of the last six where the district has gone to Stage 4 restrictions, added Boysen. 

“There’s this ‘emergency’ component of communications we’re seeing right now from the regional district,” said Boysen. “But it’s actually part of our reality from year to year already.” 

The district board also directed staff to review and propose updates for next summer’s water use restrictions by the end of this year, with a supporting conservation — and communication — strategy behind them. 

“If we see you using water outdoors when it’s not your permitted day, or using a sprinkler when we’re on Stage 4 restrictions, you can be fined, or we can turn your water off,” said Lannan. “But we don’t want to go there. We’re hoping this will help educate people, perhaps to realize that they might not need to use potable water for their gardens and lawns.” 

A full explanation of watering restrictions — alongside charts showing when they are triggered — is available online at


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