As the city wrapped up installation of residential water meters in 2018, water consumption ended the year at an all-time low.
According to the city’s 2018 drinking water report, the city’s total monthly water production was 17.7 billion litres, compared to 23.5 billion litres a decade ago. City of Kamloops utility services manager Greg Wightman called the 30-per-cent drop a “very substantial decrease.”
“The numbers that we’re seeing in ’17, ’18 are by far the lowest we’ve seen on record,” he said.
Water meters were introduced in 2012 to reduce water consumption, as the city neared its maximum daily capacity of 160 million litres.
From 2006 to 2009, the city got close to reaching its daily limit, which could have resulted in the taps running dry.
In 2009, the daily peak was 144 million litres. In 2006, the daily peak was 149 million litres.
Looking at a hefty capital investment in the tens of millions of dollars to expand capacity of the water treatment plant, the city instead implemented residential water meters, targeting properties identified to waste the most water. Installation concluded in 2018 and all Kamloops residents are charged for their water consumption.
The decision was controversial, with many residents pointing to a 2003 referendum in which water meters were rejected and others concerned with the health effects of the wireless meter technology.
But residents now appear to be watering smarter, with last year’s daily peak dropping to 106 million litres.
In 2016, the daily peak dropped below 100 million litres for the first time, with help from a wet spring, and the city said it has bought itself time with its current infrastructure.
“People don’t want to be paying exorbitant amounts, so they water smarter and that’s been the big driving factor,” Wightman said.
In addition to reducing water consumption and postponing millions of dollars worth of capital investment, other savings have been realized with the installation of meters.
The most significant savings are in electricity costs.
Due to challenging topography, the city’s water system is among the most complex in the country — complete with 600 kilometres of water mains, 45 booster stations, 46 reservoirs, 2,300 fire hydrants and nearly 25,000 connections — and it takes a significant amount of power to pump water around the River City.
Less water consumption requires less pumping and less electricity. Wightman said the city’s hydro bill to pump water has remained consistent at $2.1 million since 2016, despite growth and BC Hydro rate increases.
Reduced water consumption has led to hidden savings.
“By reducing consumption, it’s allowed us to absorb the growth that’s been coming,” Wightman said.
“We grow by roughly one per cent a year in Kamloops and even with that growth, we’ve been able to keep our rates steady — and that’s something we’re pretty proud of.”
The city expects water consumption will level out.
Future water conservation initiatives will focus on irrigation, which continues to be the largest water demand, with potential rate structure changes, education and incentives for water-saving items like sprinklers with sensors that detect rain. In addition, the city will look to expand water meters to institutional, commercial and industrial properties.
Currently, only some of them are metered. Homes were targeted first because they are more likely to waste water.
In 2018, the city received 3,200 requests for service linked to water treatment and distribution, with about half of them related to water meters.
Wightman said people call the city when they receive a large water bill linked to summer irrigation or leaks — just one more sign meters are working. The city encourages residents to go online to learn how to read their water meters and recognize a leak.
“The most impactful thing you can do as the average homeowner is certainly start looking at your meter, not just when the bill comes out,” Wightman said.
“Have a look at it, see what sort of water use you’re doing. It’s even an interesting exercise to go take a look at your water meter before you turn your sprinkler on and then just see how much water you’re using for one sprinkling event. That’s good information.”
Learn how to read your water meter online at https://www.kamloops.ca/city-services/utilities-services/water-meters.