02 June 2010

Guelph is Canada's water steward leader

A guest post by Tim Shah & Chris Ferguson-Martin,* our neighbors in the (wet?) north...

With 20% of the world’s freshwater resources, many can assume that Canada is quite fortunate with its abundance of water. As Canadians though, we undoubtedly take advantage of our water as we consume on average 343 litres of water per capita per day (lcd). That is absurd considering that the Israelis consume 135 lcd and the Swedish 200 lcd. At least we’re better than the Americans' 382 lcd. The focus of this post is to draw your attention to Ontario; Canada’s most populous and urbanized province in close proximity to the Great Lakes

In Ontario, we are just starting to have a dialogue over water conservation where water metering, incentives for water efficient technology and education around water resources is becoming a more important matter. While Toronto is beefing up its efforts -- most recently through its low-flush toilet incentive program -- it is neither Ontario’s nor Canada’s water conservation leader.

In Ontario, being surrounded by surface water reassures the population that water is plentiful and ubiquitous. This makes it difficult to justify the need for conservation. However, one municipality, Guelph (slightly west of Toronto) is being progressive and holistic with its water conservation efforts.

Guelph recognizes the importance of precautionary and proactive policy to protect its water and engage its citizens. The City has a Public Advisory Committee composed of a variety of stakeholders from academia and farmers to citizens and industry that collectively help devise water conservation strategies. This illustrates the power of collaboration and cooperative efforts in seeking solutions that benefit the common good. You can view their initiatives here and here [pdf]

Guelph is completely dependent on an aquifer for its water supply. However, with an informed populace and a good water conservation ethic, water is treated like a finite resource. On average, Guelph citizens use 210 lcd, a 20% drop from 1999. Guelph’s sensible use of water cannot only be attributed to a smart metering program but other solid demand-side management initiatives. It started a Royal Flush Toilet rebate program in 2003 to replace inefficient 13 l toilets and encourage the use of 6 l ultra low flow toilets.

In addition to incentive and rebate programs, it runs a number of public education and outreach initiatives including workshops, open houses, children's water festivals and awards for water conservation and stewardship. The City also conducts audits and administers incentive programs for the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional sectors. These various conservation programs are not cheap (projected to cost in aggregate $20 million) but, all together, the total cost per litre for the conservation programs is 42% more cost effective than the cost of constructing new water and wastewater capacity. Using these demand-side management techniques will save a total of approximately 8.7 million ld. For more detailed budget, check out the links above.

Every Canadian municipality must learn from Guelph’s proactive and precautionary approach to water use, even those that draw from sources that might seem unlimited, like rivers or lakes. Indeed, Guelph is Ontario’s water conservation leader demonstrating and dispelling the myth that water is abundant and limitless, thereby providing the impetus to be more sensible about how we consume it.

Those Ontario municipalities that have implemented water metering programs have seen a drastic decrease in water use. However, Guelph has gone beyond just water metering and sophisticated pricing models with holistic efforts to promote efficiency and seek cooperation. With active participation in the water conservation programs, the City will achieve its goal of reaching 153 lcd and maintain a stable water supply for the future.

Bottom Line: Let Guelph be a water steward example not just for Ontario or even Canada, but for the United States and the World.

* Chris and Tim blog at enviroboys. They recently completed their BA (Honours) at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada. Chris did a Major in Environmental & Resource Studies with a Minor in Economics. Tim did a joint-Major in Environmental & Resource Studies and Human Geography.


Kerry said...

Great post, Tim and Chris! Guelph is doing things that most municipalities haven't even considered. Major props to Wayne Galliher, his team, and the City for realizing these goals and initiating some really cool pilot projects. Wayne will be at the Canadian Water Summit on June 17 -- looking forward to it. Will we see you there?

Tim S said...

Hi Kerry,

Thanks for your comment. The Canadian Water Summit on June 17th looks neat. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend as I will be in Hong Kong. Thanks for asking though. Take care,