Summer is on its way to Tofino and it’s bringing its usual bag of water worries along for the ride.
A dry spring has pushed Tofino into Stage 1 Water Restrictions, which means local lawns and gardens may only be watered during specific times.
Residents with even numbered civic addresses can water on Tuesdays and Fridays between 6-9 a.m. and 7-10 p.m. and residents with odd numbered civic addresses can water on Mondays and Thursdays during those same times.
District CAO Bob McPherson told the Westerly that Tofino’s Water Conservation Bylaw calls for these restrictions to kick in automatically whenever two weeks go by without rain between May 15 and Oct. 15.
“It’s to try to conserve the resource so that it’s available throughout the summer…We’re just trying to buy a little bit of time until we have some good rainfalls,” McPherson said.
“The district has made significant upgrades to its water treatment and storage systems over the last decade, but we’ve got a supply and demand equation and we’re trying to affect the demand side a little bit so that we have adequate supply for the whole season.”
The Stage 1 restrictions were announced on May 24, prompting locals to raise concerns throughout social media over the potential for Tofino to run out of water this summer but McPherson assured these worries are misguided.
“We don’t have that concern. That said, we continue to monitor the stream flows that feed into the four sources on Meares Island that we draw from and we want to understand the supply question a little bit better than we presently do; but, I’m not staying awake at night thinking that we’re going to run out of water in August,” he said.
“There are too many opportunities along the way for us to put checks in place so that doesn’t happen…I’m optimistic that by getting on this now, we’ll avoid the kind of things that end up out there on the blogosphere.”
He acknowledged the West Coast is expecting a big tourist season, meaning an influx of people draining the water supply, this summer but said the district is ready to handle the seasonal population boom.
“My expectation is that everything is going to be fine…I’m enough of an optimist to think it takes the highs and the lows to make the averages and we always seem to get our rain here. We don’t need a lot every month, we just need a few okay rainfalls and then we can completely relax,” he said.
“Given the significant consequences of not having enough water to meet demand in August, the precautionary thing to do is to start managing that resource now rather than wait until we’re in some kind of crisis mode.”
With water restrictions becoming an annual feature on Tofino’s spring calendar, McPherson said the district might amend its bylaw and pick a date rather than wait for two weeks without rainfall.
“I was able to convince myself that the last couple of years were anomalies; that we were just getting a few dry years in a row. I think we as a society have to recognize that we’re going to have longer dryer spells of weather in this part of the world and we’ve started doing some planning around that,” he said.
“There’s only so much that we can do by regulation. At the end of the day, people have to believe that this is a cause worth participating in and, by way of social contract with each other, take steps to use less water.”
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly the community responded well to last year’s water conservation efforts and she expects to see the same success this summer.
She noted Tourism Tofino has launched its ‘Every Drop of Water Counts’ campaign to deliver the conservation message to visitors.
“Tourism Tofino’s support in raising awareness and promoting water conservation is extremely important,” she said.
“It demonstrates partnership and support for the fact that we are all in this together; no single user group is being singled out. We all have to contribute to conservation, and it’s in our collective best interest as a resort municipality that is also home to several fish processing plants. Many jobs depend on our ability to use water wisely, not to mention quality of life for local families and residents.”
Osborne suggested it might be time to move the conversation past conservation and towards capacity.
“Limiting demand through conservation is much cheaper than providing more supply through building new infrastructure, but with increased tourism and fish processing, and with a changing climate, I know a time will come when we must make decisions about new infrastructure,” she said.
“I think we’d benefit from more active discussion about our goals for economic growth, the environment, and quality of life. How much do we want to invest in conservation that will extend the length of time that we can live within the limits our present infrastructure provides, and how much are we willing to pay to expand reservoirs or tap into new sources so we can have plenty of water every summer? There are no easy answers.”