Originally published as a column on September 3, 2017 on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News.
If your summer fun includes going to the beach, on the shores of either the South or North Thompson Rivers, you likely noticed the receding water line over the last few weeks, more so on the first. From one day to the next, the river grows thinner and shallower.
There is enough river still for people to swim in and paddle, enough for dogs to play fetch, and even for motorized water vehicles, if that’s your flavour, but that is not good enough. The summer has been hot and dry, which means that those of us who wanted their lawns green and lively had to increase the water usage to keep the green going. How much more could that account for, you may wonder? According to the city’s records, Kamloops residents used one billion litres of water more this year than in 2016 (‘Water usage up in Kamloops, not nearing drought levels,’ August 24, 2017 on CFJC Kamloops News.)
Numbers like that make me dizzy. Divide that by the number of people living here and you get even dizzier. Yes, that comes to 10,000 litres per person! Unless that is a mistake. I hope the billion was in fact a million, which is not good either, but better than the many scary zeros a billion comes with. Say what you want, in a world where many do not have access to clean water (or water altogether!) such numbers are beyond indecent. They are downright shameful.
The conclusion of the article was that though the province is experiencing severe drought conditions in some areas, here in Kamloops we are doing fine provided the next month will not be a dry one. Right. Psychic powers notwithstanding, no one knows what the future brings; ultimately, it is not just about the water plant having enough to fill the pipes. It’s about the big picture, which yes, it does include us, but it includes so much more life, which if threatened, will end up affecting ours.
It’s about the watershed that should hold enough water for returning salmon for example. Salmon River, Nicola, Coldwater River, and the Similkameen watersheds are currently under level four drought conditions. We are one level up, under very dry conditions, when ‘Potentially serious ecosystem or socio-economic impacts are possible or imminent and impacts may already be occurring.’ Increased water consumption compared to last year’s does bid well, nor does the description of the next level down. (The South Thompson was at a level four just two years ago.)
Level four drought conditions are defined as ‘extremely dry conditions’ with water supply ‘insufficient to meet socio-economic and ecosystem needs.’ And it is the last step before ‘loss of supply’, and if that is not enough to make us mindful, I don’t know what will.
Where to from here? Voluntary water reduction is what we’re being asked for. Some of the things I see on late night walks with the dog point to the very opposite.
School fields are being drenched every night, and so are the areas outside the surrounding fences. That our children deserve the best regarding outdoor activities on school grounds is true, but reducing daily irrigation when the water levels are dropping dangerously may serve a better, more meaningful purpose: learning about the world they are inheriting, its many problems and that the solutions are within reach. Most of the time, the solution revolves around reducing consumption; in this case, water. Dry grass may not be pretty, but we need to steer away from looks after all, and speak openly about how to make our lives more sustainable.
The same goes for any kind of lawn in Kamloops. Keeping them ‘dormant’ may just be what we need to do so that the watershed is not depleted to the point of irreversible damage on the ecosystem. In the end, it is not about paying less, which is often how municipalities make water conservation through meter installation appealing to residents. It’s about understanding the deep impact our water consumption habits have on our immediate environment and on our not so distant future.
It’s about water we depend on. Living on the edge may sound attractive in many contexts, but not when it’s about water. We have to be mindful of our blue gold way before it gets ugly (hopefully it never will.) With a city and its surroundings dry as tinder, making sure we have enough water for what residents need, for what wildlife needs and for potential firefighting if need be, that seems both sensible and necessary at once.
If this was money in our savings account, we’d make sure we have more than ‘good enough’. Water conservation may just be more important than saving money; for obvious reasons. Please do your part and urge others to do the same.