Water conservation law begins Jan. 1

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St. Albert residents will have to get smarter with their sprinklers in one week as the city turns on the taps on its new water conservation bylaw.

St. Albert’s new water conservation bylaw goes into effect Jan. 1. Passed in 2015, the law requires anyone installing plumbing in new buildings and major building renovations in town to use low-flow fixtures, which includes toilets, faucets, urinals, and showerheads. It also bans outdoor watering between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. from May 1 to October 1.

The law is meant to promote the efficient use of water, said city environmental co-ordinator Meghan Myers. City residents currently use about 247 L of water per person per day, and the city aims to get that down to 200L/person/day by 2020 under its environmental master plan.

The law is intended to be educational, and will be enforced on a complaint basis, Myers said. Violators can be fined up to $25 or, on summary conviction, fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to a year.

Low-flow fixtures

The low-flow fixture part of the law only applies if you’re doing a major renovation or building a new structure, Myers said – you don’t have to rush out and replace your showerhead otherwise.

“It’s not hard (to follow) at all,” she noted, as almost all the fixtures you can buy today meet the law’s requirements.

The law defines low-flow toilets as any that use up to six litres of water per flush, for example. None of the toilets offered at the St. Albert Home Depot and Rona stores use more than six, and some use as little as 0.8.

The law requires new showerheads to use no more than 9.5 L/minute, which is substantially more than the 5.7 L/min. used by most of the showerheads that qualified for Energy Efficiency Alberta’s recent instant rebate program. You may need help from store attendees to find these, as not all showerheads list flow rates on their packaging.

Switching to a low-flush toilet can reduce your water and sewer bills by more than $100 a year, resulting in a payback period of less than two years, said city environment manager Christian Benson in an email.

Residents can test the flow rates of their water fixtures using the St. Albert Public Library’s HEAT kits or a stopwatch and measuring cup. Urinals and toilets typically have their flow rates written on them.

Sprinkler rules

The law’s sprinkler regulations are meant to encourage conservation when water use is highest during the year, Myers said – i.e. during hot summer afternoons. The rules do not apply to watering cans/hoses, watering of new plants and landscaping, drip irrigation, or recreational water use.

Watering your lawn in the day isn’t a great idea, since the heat makes it more likely that your water will evaporate before the lawn absorbs it, said Enjoy Centre co-owner Jim Hole.

“We don’t want to waste water on lawns.”

If you do water your lawn, Hole said it’s best to use a can, sprinkler, or hose nozzle that produces big, fat drops, instead of misty sprays, as drops are less likely to evaporate before plants can absorb them. You also want to water when there’s as little wind as possible, and to position your sprinklers so they irrigate plants and not sidewalks.

“The old rule of thumb is you put on two-and-a-half to three centimetres a week,” Hole said, when asked about the amount of water to put on a lawn. It’s also best to put it all on at once.

Hole said the new water law was very flexible and unlikely to affect plant health.

“The biggest benefit from all this is people start thinking about it,” he said, which makes them less likely to waste water.

Visit goo.gl/TRWiwF for details on the law.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.