“The water meters drastically brought this water use down,” explains Carlstrom, “but we’ve seen with previous communities that after water meters are implemented, and people become more comfortable with water meters, it begins to rise back up again.”
The meters were installed around 2008, and charts show a sharp drop in usage between that January and the next, despite steady population growth. Shopland attributes that to technology like water meters and low-flush toilets, and a higher awareness of the cost of water.
“Even though the population continues to grow there was a pretty significant drop in the volume that was pumped,” he says, adding that lower usage has continued in the years since. “The last three years our maximum day demand is equivalent to what it was back in 1988, so putting water meters in has given us 30 years of capacity back in a lot of ways. So when you say that water meters will save money, that was what that was all about.”
However, if the average daily water use per person of 450 litres per capita per day continues, it’s possible the capacity of the current water treatment plant would be reach as early as 2018 or 2019. That’s based on an estimated 3 per cent annual population growth, which doesn’t take into account the proposed boundary expansion, or many proposed projects in the region.
Even if water usage was further reduced to 400 LPCD, those five years left might turn into 10, reaching capacity in 2022 or 2023. Shopland says those projections mean the City should start looking at expanding the plant.
“We’re okay, but if the population continues to grow, we’re going to have to address this. This is problem, and sooner than later we need to start planning for it,” he argues. “We’re good right now, but because of all we’ve done, five to 10 years from now, there’s some significant things that will have to happen.”
The water treatment plant was most recently upgraded in 2004, but the last major upgrades to the water system was done in 1997, when the source was changed from Charlie Lake to the Peace River Wells. City Manager Diane Hunter argues that while the city is lucky to have two water sources so close by in both the Peace River and Charlie Lake, it’s important be mindful of the potential impact on a growing community.
“I think the message continues to be that we need to start looking at this seriously, take a look at all options, whether we think they’re the most attractive or otherwise, and start getting ready for some major infrastructure upgrades and at the same time working on our conservation program.”
In the short-term, it’s recommended that the City construct an eighth Peace River well, which is already in progress, and design plans for a high lift pump station. Longer-term plans include evaluating whether a second water source is a better option for the city than expanding the current system, and developing an emergency plan, like losing the raw water supply line.