By Brianna van de Wijngaard, Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society —
Every year, UN-Water promotes the international World Water Day campaign. World Water Day is like National Lima Bean Respect Day or National Ballpoint Pen Day, but a lot more important (no disrespect to lima beans).
The theme this year is water and climate change: like so many initiatives in the last year, the focus on curbing or minimizing climate change impacts is top of mind for environmental and human rights organizations around the world. The policy brief posted on the UN-Water website summarizes the relationship between climate change mitigation measures and water as “a reciprocal one,” meaning that measures to reduce GHG emissions have a direct impact on water management and use, while management and extraction have an impact on GHG emissions due to the energy intensity of treatment and infrastructure. So, both mitigation and adaptation strategies are equally important when it comes to managing water resources and climate change impacts, and these are highlighted in the brief.
Mitigation strategies are categorized as either nature-based or technology driven. For example, one relationship between water and climate change involves heavily underutilized carbon sink opportunities. These are mangrove forests, peatlands, wetlands, and forests. These ecosystems mitigate climate change, but also require healthy, consistent hydrological cycles that are currently being affected by climate change, in addition to their lack of preservation or restoration. Maintaining or rehabilitating them is also an adaptive measure.
Another adaptation measure pointed out in the brief is the preservation of aquifers, the world’s largest source for fresh water available for human use. They are less vulnerable to climate change impacts than surface water, but because their storage capacities and recharge rates vary so widely, they must be managed comprehensively at a local level.
On average, we use 640 litres of water per day, per person, in Williams Lake, and this is without counting major industrial users. That is exactly twice the amount of the average Canadian, at 320L/day/person. In order to maintain sustainable recharge rates on our aquifer, we need to draw no more than 152L/s on average. It’s hard to say what each person’s daily use should be, but we do know from the 2019 Water Management Strategy available on the City of Williams Lake website, that our usage will approach this limit when you include industrial use, as the population increases. So, a proactive measure now, in order to stay under this average demand and put off major infrastructural investments, is to reduce our consumption. At the end of the day, 640L/day is still high, even if we currently have a healthy aquifer.
As many know, this can most easily be done during the summer months, when our water consumption peaks. But even if we reduced our outdoor summer water usage by just 20 or 25%, we would be in a much better position. We have a lot of suggestions for reducing water consumption here at the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society (CCCS), but today we want to challenge city and area residents to adopt just one commitment to reducing household water consumption—and to choose something you will stick to. Starting small makes it easier to work into your daily routinebut doing so can have a huge impact on our total usageas a community. It wouldn’t take much to really strengthen our fresh-water resource capacity.
I took one of the many water footprint quizzes available online, and I was actually quite surprised at my score: it wasn’t very good! These can be good tools for figuring out which part of your household consumption would benefit most from a reduction. Here’s a good one: www.watercalculator.org. We have a lot of tips for reducing your water use on our website.
We often think of a healthy water source as simply having enough water for our daily needs. And in many parts of Canada, we are lucky in that department. We are fourth on the list of the world’s “water-rich” countries, and most of us have very easy access to it in our homes, which contributes to how much we consume. But the impacts of climate change on water resources can happen anywhere, no matter how much water you have. We are lucky to be positioned to preserve what we have well into the future. -GG
Brianna van de Wijngaard is the communications coordinator for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society in Williams Lake, BC, working on various Water and Waste Wise-related projects and events in the community. Visit CCCS at www.ccconserv.org to learn more about our education programs or community projects.