Letter: Go further with water conservation

I think we need to go far further with water conservation than just implementing reactive restrictions during drought, writes Graham Watt.

With respect to the thoughtful letter from Gord Nichols in the July 1 Gazette, I agree with the need to understand the science before moving forward with restrictions. However, from my understanding of the science I think we need to go far further with water conservation than just implementing reactive restrictions during drought.

The key issue is that the aquifer is directly connected to surface water. As the letter stated, the aquifer levels have not been declining and are in general recharged with every freshet. But every drop that we use for irrigating lawns, washing driveways or other outdoor uses is a drop not returned to the river as cool, clean groundwater base flow when the fish and water users need it most.

While the aquifer may still provide all the water needed to keep the pumps going (although at a greater cost), the aquifer is demonstrably less able to provide discharge to the rivers in late summer, and in some cases the river begins “losing” to the groundwater in response to the lower water table near community wells.

So the total picture of aquifer sustainability includes not only whether we are able to keep pumping, but also the effect on the river ecosystem, downstream water users, and recreational users who will soon find their boats dragging over rocks.

In terms of climate change, longer growing seasons and less snowpack means the rivers will continue declining, potentially reaching several weeks of low to zero flows by the 2050s—please see the report “Sustaining the Flow” on the kettleriver.ca web site.

When we have an early spring and a forecasted hot summer, we should be considering water restrictions even earlier in the year, coupled with education and outreach about water conservation.

For instance, gardeners can radically increase the soil’s field capacity by applying compost and mulch, which also reduces evaporative losses from the soil. Veggie gardens and flower beds can easily be watered with drip and micro-spray irrigation that requires a fraction of the pressure of conventional sprinklers, providing a bonus increase to plant health.

And down the road, we need to pursue greywater irrigation options for trees, shrubs and perennials to keep our gardens lush and productive—one of many things we can learn from California’s drought.

Graham Watt, Grand Forks