Water conservation debate drips on

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Public invited to voice their opinion once more in January

Residents will get one more chance to voice their opinion on a proposed water conservation bylaw before city council votes on it.

Councillors postponed implementing the bylaw to January after Coun. Sheena Hughes wanted to give the public more time to review the changes.

The bylaw, as it is currently drafted, would require low-flow plumbing fixtures for all new construction or renovation projects in the city.

Outdoor water restrictions, which would limit watering activities to between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., would also be introduced. There are some exceptions for drip irrigation, hoses with nozzles and using water for recreational use.

“My concern is bringing this forward … and then making a lot more dramatic changes,” Hughes said.

Council first voted in favour of drafting the bylaw in 2014, after Coun. Cathy Heron said that educational initiatives were not enough and it was time to prompt some habit changes.

The bylaw was initially met with some pushback from council and administration, which said the bylaw would be difficult to enforce and market demand was already moving toward more water-efficient fixtures.

On Monday, Heron said other communities already have water conservation bylaws in place that restrict water use during certain times or shortages.

At this time, St. Albert can restrict residential water use during drought conditions but only on a voluntary basis.

“We are not a leader in this,” she said. “It’s about time St. Albert took a stand and made a public statement about this.”

Council had also asked administration to survey residents about the proposed bylaw.

On Monday, staff reported that it held a telephone and online survey and received 600 responses from residents. St. Albert businesses were also contacted and 252 completed the survey.

The survey found that 76 per cent of residents and 85 per cent of businesses are in support of water conservation and requirements for water-efficient fixtures and sprinkler restriction measures.

Eighty-one per cent of residents, and 57 per cent of businesses, said they already have low-flow fixtures, such as showerheads, faucets and low-flush toilets.

About 60 per cent of residents, and 30 per cent of businesses, said they also water their lawn. Twenty-five per cent use a sprinkler and five per cent use a water timer.

Administration also collected comments from residents during an open house.

Some people suggested restricting watering to the early morning hours – 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. – as evening watering can result in mould and fungus diseases to plants.

Residents who did not support the bylaw worried about the cost of replacing fixtures and the interference of government in their personal choices.

Administration said people also felt that it would be hard to enforce low-flow fixtures, as officers would have to enter residences to check on them.

When questioned about this on Monday, Aaron Giesbrecht, manager of policing services, said there are no resources available to enforce the bylaw proactively. But officers can give warnings or fines when they see an offense.

The fine is currently proposed at $25.

He added that officers would probably have a conversation with the homeowner first and issue a ticket for a second offence. He also thought it unlikely that officers would go into someone’s home to flush their toilet.

“If a complaint came in … I guess we would have to determine if that is something where we would go in there and check,” he said.

Hearing about how difficult it would be to enforce the bylaw, Coun. Tim Osborne suggested the city focus more on incentive programs, such as rainwater harvesting, and education programs.

“It’s a little more of a positive approach,” he said.

He and other councillors also questioned how much the public would support further changes to the bylaw as suggested by Heron.

She agreed that education should be a big part of this new bylaw. She also said the bylaw opened the door to other regulations in the future that could include new conservation technologies that aren’t available now.

Her goal is to reduce the water usage of individual residents from now 250 litres to 200 litres in five years.

“We should not avoid taking a strong position on what we believe in,” she said.

Hughes, however, questioned how much people would support further restrictions. They may like the proposed bylaw now because they already conserve water that way, she said.

“But if you start changing it and making further restrictions … will there still be the same level of support?” she said.

Council postponed a final vote on the bylaw to Jan. 11. The public will also be able to speak to council about the bylaw that day.

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