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Council split over water conservation bylaw

Three courses set by Crouse, MacKay and Heron

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 06:00 am

IN THE AIR – City council has differing ideas what direction to take with a water conservation bylaw. Three council members plan to bring motions forward in the coming weeks.
IN THE AIR – City council has differing ideas what direction to take with a water conservation bylaw. Three council members plan to bring motions forward in the coming weeks.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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Council has split three ways over what, if anything, it should do with its proposed water conservation bylaw.

Mayor Nolan Crouse as well as Couns. Cathy Heron and Cam MacKay gave separate notices of motion Monday concerning the city’s proposed water conservation bylaw.

The bylaw, if passed, would require the use of water efficient water fixtures in all new homes and home renovations.

The city’s environmental advisory committee studied the potential impact of such a bylaw and recommended against going forward with it, said city environmental co-ordinator Meghan Myers, speaking to council.

“A bylaw like this would be difficult to enforce,” she explained, noting that most communities the committee studied didn’t bother doing so.

The committee also found that market demand meant that almost all new homes have efficient fixtures in them already. Most of the fixtures available in local stores also met the efficiency standards set by the water efficiency bylaws the committee studied.

“A bylaw would have limited benefit as there’s already that demand (for efficiency) in homes now,” Myers said.

The committee also looked at a bylaw to limit outdoor water use, Myers continued. Research found that such a law could reduce the city’s summertime water use by about 15 per cent, lowering its per capita water use to 237 litres a day from 252 – a reduction the committee felt was not significant enough to justify a bylaw.

Instead, the committee recommended that the city drop the idea of a bylaw and instead focus on other policies in its water conservation plan, including public education and escalating block rates for water (where residents pay a higher rate for water if they use a lot of it).

Coun. Gilles Prefontaine, who sits on the environmental advisory committee, questioned this recommendation.

“I’m still struggling with not doing anything,” he said.

“Why aren’t we still looking to pursue (reduced) summer usage?”

Three ways forward

Instead of voting on the committee’s recommendation, council gave three separate notices of motion on the issue.

MacKay gave notice that he will ask council to follow through on the committee’s recommendation.

Heron gave notice that she will ask council to create an outdoor water conservation bylaw.

“It seems like we’re doing nothing if we drop this,” she said of the bylaw.

Crouse gave notice that he will call for a corporate policy to encourage water conservation in city operations.

“I don’t think that the city is setting the tone properly by doing nothing,” he said in an interview.

“If the public sector can’t do it, why do we expect the private sector to do things?”

St. Albert has a tremendous amount of green space and should show leadership in how it uses water, Crouse said. A water conservation policy could set out how the city uses sprinklers and green roofs without being as threatening as an enforceable bylaw.

All three motions will be debated later this summer.

An outdoor law?

The Gazette found several examples of communities that regulate outdoor water use. For example, the Town of Cochrane’s water utility bylaw bans outdoor watering outside the hours of 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. between May and October. Violators can be fined up to $500. Exemptions are made for water toys, children’s pools and the hand-watering of gardens.

Okotoks has a similar bylaw, with the added twist that residents can only water their lawns two days out of every week.

Research suggests that restricting residents to watering on certain days of the week actually increases water use, said Leah Kongsrude, the city’s director of strategic services. St. Albert’s bylaw would likely limit the number of hours of watering instead, and would have exemptions for water-saving practices such as drip irrigation.

City residents currently use about 252 litres of water per person a day, according to the 2013 Report on the Environment. The city aims to reduce that to 200 by 2020 under its environmental master plan.


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