I admit it. I’ve got a thing about water conservation. It all started when I was in my early 30s.
It was then my wife, Sandy, and I shifted to Salt Spring Island, a lovely spot in the string of Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia near Vancouver. The island had 3,500 residents at the time and was known for its peaceful, rural living and happy retirees.
Our water supply came from a community scheme serving seventeen properties. I was immediately conscripted on to its board of directors, such as it was. My next-door neighbour, Bruce, was the brains of the operation and they were in need of some brawn.
I remember summers looking for leaks in the water lines and going door-to-door to tell neighbours it was time – once again – to stop watering the garden and to forget about washing the car.
But I remember most clearly the summer we upgraded the infrastructure – drilling a new bore and adding a second storage tank.
It was a sunny, beautiful day when we drilled for water. We got to 300 feet (as it was measured in those days) with no luck. Do we keep going, throw more money at? Or do we retreat and start somewhere else? I’m glad Bruce made that decision!
“Let’s do one more rod,” he said, unflappable as ever.
So we put on another 20-footer, gave it a go, and struck blue gold.
My Salt Spring experience left me with a real understanding that we can’t take our freshwater resources for granted.
Summer droughts, seasonal water shortages and increasing and competing demand for the resource mean efficient water use is more important than ever. There’s a delicate balance between protecting our rivers and streams (and groundwater resources) and keeping the taps flowing.
So we’re fortunate to have talented freshwater ecologists, hydrologists and other science and policy specialists at Councils, universities, research institutes and non-profit organisations around the country. Together, they provide what we need for informed decision-making. They remind us that no matter what economic development goals we might have, there is an environmental “bottom line” that must be respected.
And we’re blessed with innovators in industry and the farming community who recognise that protecting water quality and using the resource efficiently is the way of the future. They’re showing their colleagues and neighbours what’s possible.
I count myself a lucky man to work along side them. In my consulting work in water use and conservation, I rub shoulders with the scientists and the policy makers and the practitioners – dedicated people working to derive benefit today from this finite resource whilst protecting it for future generations.
Shifting to a rural property with our own water supply a few years ago gave me a chance to practice what I preach.
We started by adding a proper storage tank and replacing Thumper (the ancient, free-standing pump) with a submersible and new lines for the bore.
In the house, we inherited low-volume, dual-flush toilets. We replaced the shower rose with an inexpensive, low-flow model for additional savings in water (and power) with no complaints about water pressure from our sons.
There was no landscape irrigation and we don’t intend adding any. Native and drought-tolerant plants are just fine for us. We nurture the vegetable garden with hand watering as needed.
The final step was to sort drinking water for the sheep. Our next-door neighbour – bless his heart, skills and tools – took charge. An experienced sheep farmer, he led the way on this one. I was definitely the helper.
This reminded me of my helper days on Salt Spring Island all those years ago. Bruce, who came to be a wonderful friend, is gone now but I think of him often. He had a craggy look about him and strong opinions about certain things, but a good heart.
He would have fit right in here. And he’d be pleased with what I’m up to now. I can just hear him saying, “Good on ya, mate.”
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.