Water: if we care about the future there’s really no choice

Why would a guy who makes his living from bringing water to people suddenly start giving public lectures about using less of it; especially when this crusty old well driller is deathly afraid of public speaking?

If early onset dementia is your first guess, then you would be on the same page as my business partners. The truth however is a little more complicated. In recent years I have become aware that from a sustainability perspective we are headed up the proverbial creek. And it’s not just that we don’t have a paddle, we have a canoe full of holes, and the fact that the creek is likely running dry should be of no consolation at all.

My home has always been the Cowichan Valley. My family has earned a good living by tapping into the many and varied aquifers that underlie this beautiful place, providing water for agriculture, industry and domestic use.

At one time, when I was young and naïve, I believed that our aquifers were inexhaustible, but lately I have seen both major and minor declines in the annual levels of some aquifers. We have also seen critically low flows above ground in our local rivers and streams, like this past summer. We don’t completely understand how surface water and groundwater interact, but we know that they do, and that depletion of one can diminish the capacity of the other.

Our climate is changing. Some few may still argue about the cause of this change, but the fact that the change is real is beyond question. Locally, one of the most striking changes is our precipitation patterns. Longer, drier summers could soon result in the tragic loss of complete salmon runs in the Cowichan River unless we make major improvements to how we manage river flows.

2014 delivered a near “perfect storm”, combining absent snow pack with low spring rainfall and extended summer drought, which really put water sustainability in the spotlight.

Throughout last summer and fall, I was graciously accepted into the boardrooms and council chambers of the largest water utilities in the Valley to talk about how we can do better at water conservation. I see no reason why Canadians should use more water per capita than any other nation, but our average consumption is a shocking 250 per cent higher than Germany. In my role with the Cowichan Watershed Board, I invited them all to join the Cowichan Water Conservation Challenge. To my delight, all are now taking steps to join that initiative, starting with annual reporting of local water consumption.

Early results show Mill Bay and Ladysmith as local water conservation leaders but with many water saving initiatives planned or underway, we look forward to seeing what the New Year will bring. Becoming a grandfather has put a fine point on my efforts as a sustainability activist, so I am determined to continue trying to move us all towards a truly sustainable future. If we care about our grandchildren’s future, I don’t believe we really have a choice.

David Slade is a senior partner at Drillwell Enterprises, and a member of the Cowichan Watershed Board