Integrated Management of Watershed Quality and Water Conservation
Charlesbourg is a city of 72,000 people located on the outskirts of Quebec City. Because the city has no water-treatment plant, its residents rely on various high-quality above-ground and underground water sources. The Sept-Ponts watershed, a 7.7 km2 forested area lying partly within Charlesbourg and partly within the city of Beauport, provides naturally filtered water to meet about half the city's needs with no treatment other than disinfection.
In the 1980s, increased drinking water consumption, combined with high demographic growth forecasts, highlighted the possibility of shortages and reduced water quality. Encroaching urban development and more intensive recreational use of forests were threats to the quality of the Sept Ponts water. In addition, the province of Quebec was expected to issue changes to its Fresh Water Regulations. These factors prompted the city to undertake a pre-feasibility study for a water-treatment plant. At an estimated cost of over $30 million, this option was incompatible with municipal objectives developed against a backdrop of budget cutbacks and heavy tax loads.
The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (Quebec's agency for public hearings on the environment) recommended in 1993 that Charlesbourg reduce its water consumption before investing in major infrastructure works. As a result, elected municipal leaders and administrators embarked on a three-pronged approach: eliminating waste, streamlining operations and watershed management.
In six years, the city has reduced its consumption of drinking water by eight per cent, has maintained the cost for its drinking water at $0.10 per cubic metre and is creating a natural conservation zone at the centre of its territory. These results stem from a dynamic policy for conserving drinking water and from the implementation of integrated watershed management for the Sept Ponts River.
- Charlesbourg has maintained the average water-supply cost at $0.10/m3, one of the lowest costs in Quebec.
- The plan avoided a tax increase of nearly five per cent that would have been required to build a new treatment plant.
- The project achieved its objective: to intelligently exploit the watershed's hydrological capacity while reducing the consumption of drinking water. Moreover, to limit the erosion that alters water quality, the project progressively modified forestry methods and favored natural regeneration.
- Due to its monitoring measures, Charlesbourg is now able to associate changes in water quality in specific areas to environmental events and other influences.
- Natural restoration highlighted the recreational and scenic character of the watershed and discouraged undesirable uses (e.g., favouring walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and observing nature over use of ATVs, motocrosses, snowmobiles, etc.).
- Measures to protect water quality also restored damaged aquatic environments, shorelines and forests, notably through the restoration of a marsh, the naturalization of banks and the closing and redevelopment of several access trails.
- In five years, the city has reduced its consumption of drinking water by eight per cent.
- The natural conservation zone directly adjacent to urban areas contributes to biodiversity.
- Citizens are more aware of their responsibility to conserve drinking water.
- There was wide sharing of expertise from varying disciplines ranging from hydrology to biology and from legal sciences to management sciences. Strong partnerships developed among consultants, academics and various organizations and associations.
- The city was able to assuage landowners' fears that the city would interfere with their land. These landowners became members of a watchdog committee, creating a happy coexistence that helped eliminate vandalism.