Canada

Metro Vancouver residents slapped with $166K in fines for defying water restrictions

About $166,000 in fines were issued to Metro Vancouver residents who did not abide by restrictions put in place this summer to try to conserve water.

Of the 21 municipalities, one electoral area and one Treaty First Nation that make up Metro Vancouver, more than half issued fines ranging from $100 to $500 to residents who flouted water-restriction rules put in place Aug 4.

They prohibited all lawn watering and only allowed trees, shrubs and flowers to be watered by hand, soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Combined, bylaw officers in the municipalities, which set their own fine amounts, also issued more than 1,000 warnings to people in contravention of the restrictions, which were lifted Oct. 15.

The penalties and warnings illustrate the extent cities went to to have residents conserve water during a period of unprecedented drought, as well as the hundreds of property owners who defied the request to help mitigate the crisis.

“As climate change continues to affect our region’s water supply, using water wisely year-round is just the right thing to do, irrespective of a potential monetary penalty,”  Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro Vancouver’s water committee, said in a statement.

Brodie is also the mayor of Richmond, which handed out 65 fines worth $200 each.

The City of Vancouver handed out the most fines, with 168 worth $500, which if paid within two weeks, were reduced to $250. Coquitlam was second with 154 fines worth $250 each and North Vancouver was third with 109 fines issued worth $200 each.

Some municipalities did not issue any fines, such as the villages of Anmore and Belcarra and Bowen Island, which said it lacked staff to enforce the restrictions. White Rock owns and operates its own water system independent from Metro Vancouver despite being part of the regional government.

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Tsawwassen First Nation did not respond to a request for data from CBC News.

Warnings

The City of Langley, which has a population of nearly 26,000, only issued one fine, but during lesser restrictions earlier in the summer, worth $100. It said it issued “several warnings.”

While only issuing one fine during the Aug. 4 water restrictions, the City of Burnaby issued 304 warnings. 

It was one of 10 Metro Vancouver municipalities that reported to CBC News the number of warnings it issued.

“Our emphasis …  is on education,” said a Burnaby spokesperson in an email. “Our general experience is that warnings are an effective tool, and escalation is only rarely required.”

While Metro Vancouver has a temperate ecosystem known for significant rainfall for vast stretches of the fall, winter and spring, summers have become increasingly dry from the effects of climate change.

B.C.’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Bowinn Ma spent most of the summer speaking out about the need for residents and businesses to change the way they perceive and use water because of expected ongoing hot and dry summers and wildfires. Many people perceive water as plentiful on the South Coast.

In Metro Vancouver, each person, on average, uses about 270 litres per day. When commercial uses are factored in, that number jumps to more than 400 litres per person per day.

The Cleveland Dam, located in North Vancouver and built in 1934, holds back the 670-acre man-made Capilano Lake. The region has seen 15 to 20 per cent less rainfall than is typical so far this century. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Metro Vancouver says water use dramatically increases in the summer, with nearly 40 per cent used for residential and non-residential lawn watering.

“Lawn watering restrictions are an effective way to reduce water consumption for esthetic outdoor uses and ensure that we have enough water for essential needs, such as drinking, cooking and cleaning,” said Brodie.

The good news is that data from Metro Vancouver shows average day per capita water use dropping over the past decade from 474 litres in 2013 to 387 litres last year, which is below the performance objective of 402 litres.

Water meters over enforcement please, says academic

Still Hans Schreier, a professor emeritus at UBC’s school of Land and Water Systems, says since 2000 the region has seen 15 to 20 per cent less rainfall. Snowpacks, which feed Metro Vancouver’s three water supply areas, are also expected to be reduced in the future due to climate change, he said.

Schreier commends cities in Metro Vancouver for wanting to be water-conscious, but says punitive measures aren’t worth the effort.

“This is so bureaucratic and time-consuming that it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “How do you actually find out? Unless you see it or if your neighbour says something.”

He has long advocated for the installation of water meters on all properties, such as has been done in cities like West Vancouver and Abbotsford. Residents pay bulk rates for the water they use, which can encourage conservation but also helps better pay for water infrastructure.

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