An updated Master Water Plan could streamline the system to provide treated water to homes, and untreated water to agriculturalists. Currently, many farmers in the area are supplied with potable drinking water to nourish their crops with, when they could be using it straight from the reservoir.
"Right now, there's treatment on everything," says Greater Vernon Advisory director Mike Macnabb. "Instead, we could pipe untreated water to orchardists and agriculturalists."
Separating the drinkable water from the untreated water would cost $150 million, but could save money in the long run.
The Vernon Irrigation District—the second largest system in B.C—was originally designed to allow for expansion of agriculture, while residential water was accessed through wells. Over time, as Vernon began to grow, developers sought to build subdivisions with access to the existing water system.
"That was the start of the difficulties we have today," Macnabb says.
To provide quality drinking water and to meet the requirements of the Interior Health Authority, a costly treatment plant had to be installed at the reservoir. Now, any water that leaves the reservoir is treated, including the gallons sprinkled over farmland.
"Now, in some cases, it might still be cheaper to provide treated water to agriculturalists, depending on their location," Macnabb says. How to go about distributing water will be a large point of discussion as the plan moves forward.
But water quality isn't the only factor involved. Increasingly, water quantity is becoming more and more of a concern.
"The snowpack looks good this year," Macnabb says, also acknowledging a predicted warming trend. "We're an arid climate only going to get warmer."
He says other water sources, including watersheds that have been taken offline, will be looked at in the future to meet the demand for water. Macnabb says around 30% of Vernon water is wasted as it escapes from leaky pipes, and that saving that water could make a huge difference. Additionally, he says the community will have to do its part. Collecting rainwater and reducing lawn watering are just some ways he thinks citizens could help reduce water consumption.
"Myself, after I have a bath, I take a bucket and scoop the water into the garden," Macnabb says.
And just as Macnabb leads by example, so too does the Regional District. GVAC today agreed to fund a waterwise demonstration garden outside the office. Presently, the RDNO grounds use a lot of water to maintain a green patch of lawn. The goal of the demonstration garden is to feature the water conservation benefits of waterwise landscaping as well as its aesthetic appeal.
"We want to walk the talk," says Macnabb.
The Master Water Plan will see just a few more edits before being released to the public, sometime later this spring.