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We’ll need a drought before we start water recycling

July 9, 2015

Last night behind the Seoul House Royal Korean Restaurant at 1209 West Broadway Ave.

After 10 p.m. Wednesday night I found myself in the alley on the north side of West Broadway Avenue — the 1200 block to be precise. I was in the alley to check Container blue bins for returnable beverage containers but, in light of the Stage 2 watering restrictions imposed by the city,  I took the time to snap a photo of the H2O gushing from behind a particular restaurant.

The photo obviously shows a fair bit of water spreading out over the asphalt of the alley and running downhill towards the intersection with Alder Street.

What isn’t obvious is that the water has been left running, unattended, and that kitchen staff of the Seoul House Royal Korean Restaurant pretty much do this every night at about the same time.

This is not actually to single out this one restaurant for criticism but to make some points about water waste in general –that it’s endemic throughout Vancouver and not just among residences; that when the rain doesn’t fall, and water restrictions are imposed, the burden of compliance falls heavier on residences than businesses, and that conserving drinking water is still the exception and wasting it is the rule.

Everyone sees (and increasingly snitches on) the water wastage that occurs in the front yards of the city but the commercial wastage that goes on behind the scenes, in the back alleys, goes largely unremarked.

What they do with drinking water is apparently their own business

We have now gone without significant rainfall for, I don’t know — far too long and the city of Vancouver, B.C. has recently raised its watering restrictions up a notch to Stage 2 of the four stage Metro Vancouver Water Shortage Response Plan, designed to conserve treated drinking water during the dry summer months.

Under Stage 2 restrictions, all residential and non-residential lawn watering is restricted to various once-weekly five-hour periods in the morning, staggered over four weekdays and determined by street addresses.

The kind of watering that this restaurant on West Broadway was doing, would be considered “private and commercial outdoor impermeable surface-washing (like driveways, sidewalks, and parkades)”.

Under Stage 2, a business such as this restaurant can hose down their outdoor asphalt and concrete “only for health and safety purposes or to prepare a surface for painting or similar treatment. Washing for aesthetic purposes is prohibited”.

The same restrictions apply to private and commercial pressure washing.

Which I read to mean that all businesses that deal with the public can do what they want with drinking water.

Who is going to gainsay a business that chooses to hose down their front sidewalk three times a day for the “health and safety” of their customers?

And anything restaurant kitchen staff do can be construed to be for “health and safety purposes” so I expect that means that restaurants can use or misuse their tap water however they see fit.

It isn’t until Stage 4 restrictions that all discretionary watering using treated drinking water is prohibited.

That would be completely uncharted territory for Metro Vancouver’s Water Shortage Response Plan. The highest the water restrictions have ever reached is Stage 3 (very briefly in 2002).

Stage 4 restrictions have never been implemented and were only developed after the frighteningly dry summer of 2003.

What’s happening is that global warming is dragging us, kicking and screaming, towards using our drinking water in a more responsible and sustainable way.

Applying the three Rs of recycling to water

The Metro Vancouver Water Shortage Response Plan applies only to the use of treated drinking water, not to the use of rain water, grey water, any forms of recycled water, or other sources outside the GVWD/municipal water supply system.

The Metro Vancouver Drinking Water Management Plan, June 2011, talks about adopting a strategy of matching water quality to usage requirements, explaining that many of the purposes for which drinking water is currently used do not require water of potable quality.

But the report acknowledges that a lot needs to be done — by-laws and health regulations need to be written and research and education needs to be undertaken — before residential and commercial use of greywater and rainwater can begin to become a meaningful thing.

It was the reality of finite land for landfill expansion (and the associated punitive costs) that drove Metro Vancouver away from simply disposing of garbage and toward the more sustainable approach of diversion and recycling.

We need to believe that fresh water has likewise become a finite resource before we will apply the three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) to our water usage.

It will probably take a full-on drought to make believers of us.

But good news! I believe that slowly but surely, California’s drought has been creeping up on southern British Columbia for at least a few years now.

It’s a sort of wet/dry drought that we’re having


The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge in action. — Craig Miller/KQED

All along, the so-called “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” of high pressure, which is seen as the engine of California’s four-year drought, has been reaching right up onto British Columbia’s doorstep.

I think that all this time the R3 ridge has been increasing the temperatures on the South Coast of B.C. but that the drying effects of the increase have been muted and offset by the way the ridge has been bumping rain-laden weather systems around California and dumping them on Alaska and B.C..

But I believe the ridge has been driving us towards drought all the same, by raising the temperature where it counts, at the higher elevations.

Consider that while April 1, 2015, saw no snow in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, in British Columbia. the snow pack levels on South Coast mountain were only 13 percent of normal.

There was no shortage of precipitation but it fell as rain and not snow.

The problem with rain is that it runs away so quickly. Snow is our money in the bank for all the non-rainy days of summer and while we’re not completely overdrawn the way California is, we are very close to being tapped out.

Water has (like trees) always been seen as part of British Columbia’s birthright. And quite possibly the coming years will show us that we’ve finally run through our inheritance, water-wise. In which case we will just have to adjust to a new and lower standard of living, or at least learn a new way to live within our means. Click the image to enlarge it.

From → British Columbia

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