VPID landowners raised a number of questions about water usage and management in response to the 2021 water meter survey. Although detailed answers to some of these questions can be found in the full metering committee report itself, we have summarized a selection of them here and will add more FAQs as time permits.
The questions have been grouped around three topics:
- Questions regarding water conservation
- Questions about water meters, and
- Questions about how our current system works
1. Water Conservation, Education, Communication
- How much would it cost to install a rainwater collection system at my home? Are water tanks and supplies available through the hardware store?
Water tanks and supplies are available at Home Hardware as of March, 2021. Budget between $3000 and $5000 for a typical installation. This provides up to 1950 US Gallons, an on-demand pump for around $400 or a submersible for around $800. This is the kind of system used by people for irrigation of their gardens. Guttering assumed to be in place and is not part of the estimated cost. Can be done by a DIY person.
For household use, for example a toilet, the same would apply, but rates for proper plumbing would also apply especially for the installation of a backflow preventer to prevent cross-contamination.
In planning for a new house, 20,000 gallons has been a norm per household with the few houses which have had that feature engineered into the plans, with a typical budget of $15,000. There is an economy of scale with storage tanks: the larger the tank, the lower the cost per litre of storage. Overriding all this discussion, it has been pointed out many times that each case is individual to the needs of the resident. There is no off-the-shelf system for all.
- Is there a protocol for filtering the rain water going into my storage tank? What filtering options are available? Recommended?
There is a guidebook developed by the federal government on how to harvest rainwater here. This video may be of some use too: youtube.
- Which household usages can be met with filtered rainwater? E.g., baths, showers and toilets?
Baths, showers, and toilets require separate plumbing if RWH (rainwater harvest) is to be used. The cost of capture as noted above has additional cost as independent piping from an RWH source is plumbed into the house, and a backflow preventer is added to the system. Community water and RWH water cannot co-mingle, as enforced by the Health Authority.
- Can VPID create a water catchment program for anyone not already using rain water?
Not at this time. The public health requirements are exacting for public organizations such as improvement districts. To satisfy these requirements, VPID would need to invest in dedicated facilities for storage, filtration and decontamination at a cost well beyond our current capital budget. A taste for what is required can be found at Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
However, standards for residents willing to establish their own systems are manageable and worth exploring; see for example this from the Nanaimo Regional District.
- Can rainwater be used for drinking?
Yes, but see the sections on potable water for residences in Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) in this Nanaimo Regional District’s guidebook.
- What can I do to reduce my household water usage?
There are numerous excellent online sources of tips for reducing household water consumption. Here is one that offers tips and has a tool to help you calculate your “water footprint”; see How To Save Water
- Here are a few simple tips:
- Take shorter showers (put an hourglass timer in your shower)
- Replace your shower heads with low-flow fixtures
- Replace your toilets with low-volume models (or put something in the tank, such as a water bottle, to reduce the water that flushes each time
- Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving
- Keep a bottle of drinking water in the fridge so you don’t have to run the tap to get cool water to drink
- Rinse your veggies in a bowl of clean water instead of under the tap
- Are there government programs to help me purchase water-saving appliances?
Yes. Among other sources, please see the guide from BC Hydro PowerSmart .
- What is VPID doing to educate people about water conservation?
Through regular email, VPID keeps homeowners informed of available water resources, particularly during periods of high demand. There is a constant flow of water through the five large tanks at the Treatment Plant. As demand increases, water pumped from our six wells cannot keep up in severe drought, and our reserves diminish. Street signage grows in intensity as worries develop. VPID puts out an advisory as we work through the stages of drought, found on this website.
The partnership with residents in the program Powered by Rainwater continues this summer. Tips on water conservation are provided. Finally, our Bylaw #101 explains the rights and responsibilities of residents.
- Does VPID supply water for swimming pools?
No. VPID’s policy is not to supply water for swimming pools. The one pool located within VPID is supplied by the homeowner’s private well.
- Why do VPID documents quote water usage in US gallons and not in litres?
Historically, all VPID’s meters were read in US gallons and storage tanks as well. Rather than spend the time to revise all the information, it is easier to just carry on with that metric. 1 US gallon = 3.78 litres.
2. Questions regarding water meters
- Are there inexpensive ways to monitor my water usage?
Inexpensive meters that can be clamped on to a water line within your house are readily available. Google “Smart home water meters”. The meter’s accuracy and ease of readout are roughly proportional to its price. However, such meters are resettable and not appropriate for billing and monitoring purposes of VPID itself.
- Can I install and use my own water meter as a substitute for a VPID-installed meter?
Not at this time. Each situation would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis to ensure the same standard for accuracy, security and readability as the VPID meter. At present, we don’t have the staff time to evaluate alternative metering hardware.
- What will be the visual impact of a water meter on the rural appearance of my lot?
Essentially nothing beyond a secondary green box (if needed) placed in the ground near the street where the existing domestic shut-off valve is.
- Will I be able to obtain data on my own water usage from a household meter?
That depends on the system installed by VPID. The least expensive system requires manually reading the meter’s display, something any homeowner can do if they are willing to keep records of their usage. The most expensive meters relay their readings via cell phone broadcast to a centralized server, which may or may not be accessible to individual homeowners.
- If we’re worried about conservation, why not just add more wells to the water supply rather than add household meters?
We currently draw more than 6,000,000 gallons of water annually from the aquifers in the VPID area, and the installed capacity of our wells should exceed 7,000,000 gallons by mid-2021. A hydrology report on the area, prepared fifty years ago, conservatively estimated the aquifer capacity at about 8,000,000 gallons annually. In other words, we are approaching the capacity of the system, even though only about 40% of the VPID dwellings are occupied year-round. As more houses are constructed, and our full-time population increases, the importance of conservation will continue to grow.
- What other sources of water is the VPID looking at?
In BC, the common alternative to wells is the capture of rainwater in natural or artificial lakes. To put this in the VPID context, the average building lot of ⅓ acre receives about 300,000 gallons of rain annually. If we were to cease using wells, our total water usage of more than 6,000,000 gallons each year would require the capture, and removal from the ecosystem, of all rain received by the equivalent of twenty building lots. Although rainwater may be a useful source for an individual homeowner, it doesn’t seem cost-effective at the community level given the infrastructure requirements.
- What have we learned from the experience with meter systems elsewhere in the Gulf Islands?
Ten residential water districts in the Gulf Islands that have household water meters report that they believe water use had declined, but they weren’t able to share their data with VPID. One district compared one year prior to installing meters with eight years after installation and showed a 13% average decline after meters were installed.
We obtained data on average annual water use per household from most of the metered water districts. The average varies depending on what fraction of residents are permanent island residents. By looking at these data we concluded that VPID could reasonably expect average water use to drop by around 15% per household if meters were added to our system.
Only four of the water districts we surveyed charge for water based on household consumption. All four are managed by CRD. All use a graduated rate, with higher rates for households using well above-average amounts of water. For example, in one Saltspring Island water district the rate is $0.01174/gallon for up to 10,032 gallons/quarter, and then rises to $0.02386/gallon for 10,320-27,720 gallons/quarter, and finally $0.0322 for over 27,720 gallons/quarter.
3. Questions regarding our current system
- How do VPID water rates compare with other water districts?
Water and sewage rates are updated regularly on this VPID website ; they are similar to the rates adopted by other island districts of comparable size and resources. The Mayne Island Integrated Water Systems Society website has information on water taxes and tolls for several Gulf Island water districts.
- How does VPID’s water usage compare with other water districts?
During the past two years, VPID has used between 5.3 and 5.7 million US gallons based on total treated water usage figures. With 237 connections, this translates to an average daily household use ranging from 61 to 66 US gallons/day.. The average daily household consumption for a selection of water districts on nearby Gulf Islands varied from 40 – 115 US gallons per day, depending strongly on the percentage of full-time residents. We currently think that about 40% of VPID connections are permanent residents. On that basis we think VPID’s recent use has been a bit higher than these other districts, and this is why we expect a 15% reduction is attainable. Thus our goal of 55 US Gallons per day for each connected residence over the year is achievable.
- What does VPID’s annual water usage look like for recent years? What about daily usage?
Water usage figures are available in the VPID annual statistics and are summarized as follows:
|Year||Gross annual usage||Residences||Daily household usage|
|2005-8||6,292,750 US gal||226||76.3 US gal|
|2009-12||5,796,000||226||70.3 US gal|
Note that the figures for 2018 – 2020 include water brought to the island by truck. All volumes reported here are in US gallons. The gross annual usage figure includes water used for maintenance of the system; the total annual household usage is slightly less than the gross usage. In addition, evolution of VPID methodology and metering means that the historical figures are not quite comparable year-to-year.
This graph shows the water level in our storage for the last 3 years.
- What do we know about our overall water supply? How close are we to the capacity of the VPID catchment to supply water?
A hydrology report prepared in the early 1970s estimated that about 8,000,000 gallons of water could be drawn from the aquifers in the VPID region. We are currently drawing more than 6,000,000 gallons annually, out of an installed capacity somewhat in excess of 7,000,000 once a new well is brought into production in mid-2021. An updated hydrology report is in preparation, which should give us a more accurate assessment of what can be drawn from our aquifers without damaging or overburdening them.
- Should we expect our water supply to change in the future because of changes in climate in the Gulf Islands?
As recorded by Environment Canada since 1940, the general trend in most of Coastal BC is of gradually increasing temperatures and annual precipitation. However, summer months have become drier, while precipitation in the remainder of the year has risen. This trend is expected to continue for at least several decades. How these changes will affect our water supply involves a competition between several factors and is as yet unknown.
- How much water has been lost to leaks in the VPID system in recent years? What fraction of total water pumped from the wells is this?
In the past 2 years, the amount of water lost to leaks is 21,750 US gallons and 25,483 US gallons or 0.41% and 0.44%.
VPID currently has a dozen meters at strategic locations throughout the water district. Would the addition of meters to every household improve the detection of leaks over the current system?
Yes, the addition of household meters would help speed up the detection of leaks on private property. However, the system currently employed by VPID staff is quite efficient and the improvement would not be substantial.
- What authority does the VPID board have for managing water usage?
The VPID board is governed by a set of bylaws under the BC Local Government Act . Many decisions made by the board deal with site-specific situations; however, in the case of a policy decision such as the installation of water meters, the board does not act in isolation and attempts to build a consensus that is satisfactory to most landowners.
- What type of projects need approval from landowners?
The B.C. Local Government Act dictates that all Improvement District projects that require the borrowing of funds must be approved by a majority vote of the landowners at an Annual General Meeting or a Special General Meeting.
Updated by Philippe Kruchten, on October 20, 2021 at 18:44