An “Intern”ational Perspective on SPEC’s World Water Day Celebration

In the beautiful Botanical Garden at UBC, SPEC co-hosted a Water Day Event on March 22, in which everyone had the opportunity to hear more about water conservation.

The evening started with Steve Litke from the Fraser Basin Council. He gave an interesting overview of the new BC Water Act. He talked about the progress made and the challenges that remain. He also shared some ideas on how we could govern our water resources more effectively and provide fair access to the multiple water users in the region.  

The City of Vancouver had two speakers present, Jennifer Bailey and Shelley Heinricks. They said that one of the most important things for us to remember is where our tap water comes from. If you look to the North Shore, you can see the beautiful, gorgeous mountains here in Vancouver… ever think that these mountains are life-givers?

Metro Vancouver has three watersheds that provide our drinking water. Watersheds can be described as a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water such as river or lake. Here we have three, from west to east, they are Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam.

What are you most willing to do? In the event room, there was a suggestion box, where you could choose from six different ways you could save water. From taking four-minute showers, to not flushing the toilet on yellow (“let it mellow”), and installing low flush toilets. Which would you choose?

Conserving water is important for businesses too. Two speakers from well-known hotels, Paul Hemmings from Delta Suites, and Joe Weiss, from Hyatt also spoke.

In less than ten years, Hyatt has decreased its water usage by more than 55%. In 2006 each guest used the huge amount of 700 liters of water, approximately per night. Last year, the amount was at 264 liters of water, per guest, per night. That means we can all do our part in water conservation—including visitors.

My father did it when I was a kid. He would come and knock on the bathroom door after ten minutes, and tell me that time was up. “You take a shower, but you don´t live there” was the motto in our family.

During the break, we all had something to eat from the buffet table that was filled with goodies. Gratefully, my friend Lisa and I, dug in. We went outside to stand in the patio whilst eating as the sun started to go down for the day. There, we talked to one of the guest at the Water Day Event.

Let´s call him Bob. Bob was not up for taking four-minute showers. He liked it too much. And he was very clear that not until everyone started to pay for their water usage, he would not give up his right to stay an extra minute, or ten, in the morning shower.

I felt compelled to talk about what we could do and not what we wouldn´t do. Like my father did with my siblings and me.

Water Metering. Our family had a meter in our row house when I was a kid. Every month we paid a water fee. It was based on the average usage for a family of our size. But at the end of the year, the-water-company-people would come to our house to see how much we actually used. Because we all used less water than average amount, every year my family got money back. Some of our neighbours—with fewer family members—had to pay more, since their usage was much higher. After the Water Celebration event, I called my mum. I told her that today I am so grateful for her and my dad teaching me how to conserve water. Sometimes it was about saving water, sometimes about saving money, but in the end we did both.  

At the end of her speech, with a laugh, Dr. Jiaying Zhao looked to the two speakers from the City of Vancouver and said, “If taps are clear [transparent] people would use less water.” And that´s kind of what a Droppler device is about, a new way to save water (see link). The device actually listens to water sounds in the environment, and offers visual feedback of water use in real time, in order to reduce water consumption, according to UBC´s page about Droppler. This is what Dr. Zhao is currently working on.

Oliver Lane, our SPEC ED, and Dr. Tara Moreau, from the UBC Botanical Garden and a SPEC director, talked about how they engage businesses and their employees in conversations on local sustainability.  They talked about taking action and responsibility. They showed props they use to discuss the roles of our forests in protecting our water systems. It is really interesting— and you can take part yourself by registering for SPEC’s Sustainable Communities Field School. Make sure to take your colleagues and employees with you.

As the evening was about to end, one of the things Dr. Tara Moreau said, stayed with me. “Leave the sprinklers on for an hour – how many tubs could you fill?” If you want to know the answer, City of Kirkland (Washington State) has a great site you can look at.

Water conservation, in my opinion, isn’t about not wanting you to take a hot shower, or not wanting you to make sure that the dishes are clean. It´s about making you aware of the water you use, and if you don´t need it, turn off the tap.

Like Bob said: “I could turn the tap off more, and not have the water running, while brushing my teeth.” How about instead of “could” let’s just do it.

—SPEC Intern Jamie