By Jenny Howell, Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society
Water Wise has been around for a while now in Williams Lake. Since 2006, thousands upon thousands of kids have learned about where City water comes from and goes, dressed up as water molecules, and seen how water travels underground using a working model. They have been on field trips to see the City water and sewage system, tested the Williams Lake creek water quality, painted yellow fish by storm drains, and learned about trees and water in the Community Forest. As someone delivering these programs, there is always an underlying question as I look out at the sea of young faces in front of me. Does this make a difference? Are enough of these kids actually listening and absorbing this, or are they just politely stifling yawns and counting the minutes until I’m done so they can get back to their lives?
This was the week I got to find out. It was time to update my annual water report, which looks at water consumption over the last year and compares that to pre-Water Wise data. So, after sifting through endless statistics on water flow rates, industrial consumption, precipitation data, and population levels, my answer emerged.
Comparing the average city water consumption for the last four years with the average of the three years before Water Wise started, we are now using 31.6% less water in this city. That is with a population slowly but steadily increasing (11,505 in 2021) and two very dry summers in 2018 and 2021 (2019 and 2020 were wetter than average).
Since we have had many new people moving into the area recently, here’s a little background on the water situation in Williams Lake. City water comes from several deep wells, mostly located at Scout Island. These wells draw water from an aquifer, reaching about 70 metres below the Williams Lake valley. In the early 2000s, concern was mounting that the aquifer was ‘drawing down’, which means the water level at Scout Island was dropping and the long-term ability of the aquifer to support the city was in doubt. With no easy alternate water sources available and big implications for the future of Williams Lake if its water source failed, a committee was established to look at options. From that came several recommendations, including the need for an extensive education program so that residents would learn to appreciate and conserve the water we have. The City partnered with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society to deliver Water Wise in the schools and the community.
Which brings us back to my report. A 31.6 percent drop in water use since Water Wise started suggests that education really does work. Those children (or enough of them) are not only listening but they are also taking the information back to their families who have responded spectacularly. Our community outreach programs must be working to reach those without children in the school system.
This big drop in residential water use has allowed the aquifer to stabilize and water levels are thought to have remained steady for many years now, allowing the City to plan more confidently for the years ahead.
That doesn’t mean that Water Wise is now obsolete. It would not take much to overstress the aquifer again, especially with weather patterns changing, reduced local snowpacks to recharge it, and potentially more people moving here. So, Water Wise continues with each new generation of kids, hopefully engraining a respect for this essential resource that will in turn get passed on to their own children. Whether they choose to stay in this community or not doesn’t really matter; stress on our freshwater supplies is an increasingly significant world issue with extensive geopolitical implications. Education in conservation of water and other resources will help all of us prepare for and navigate our way into the future as the impact of climate change starts to affect more of us directly.
For more information on Water Wise, our programs, more tips, or to read the full water report, please visit the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation website at conservationsociety.ca or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenny worked as a veterinarian for the first half of her career and then took an opportunity to teach kids at Gavin Lake where she lives with her family. This led to a new career with the Conservation Society, developing and teaching the Water Wise education program.
Want to be Water Wise and help protect our aquifer, too? Here are some of the ways to make a difference.
- Five-minute showers. Ideally, also switch to a low flow shower head (they are cheap and easy to install).
- Install a low flow toilet or put a large jar (1 litre pickle jars work well) in the toilet tank to reduce your tank size.
- Turn off the tap while washing hands or brushing teeth.
- Grass in our area needs approximately 30 minutes (1 inch) of watering twice a week to stay healthy and green. You can place a tuna can on the grass to measure an inch and know when to stop watering. Or allow some areas to go ‘golden’. The grass doesn’t die; it just goes dormant and will green up again when the rain comes.
- Use drip irrigation to save up to 50 percent of outdoor water use in your garden.
- Switch areas of your landscaping to xeriscape plants. These are low water use, and there are many hardy and appealing xeriscape shrubs and flowers available at local garden centres—they are not all cacti!
- Install a nozzle on the end of your hose so you only use what is needed. Sweep driveways rather than washing them down.