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2007 Water

Capital Regional District

Toward Sustainable Water Demand: A Comprehensive Approach

Population: 325,000

The Capital Regional District (CRD) surrounding Victoria, British Columbia, began incorporating water-demand-management initiatives into its strategic planning in 1994. During the 12 years that followed, a vast array of demand-management programs were added that have helped to ensure the quality and sustainability of the area's water supply. These programs have raised awareness of the need to conserve water and have engaged the community in water stewardship and watershed protection. Over the years, public participation has grown, as has political support from multiple orders of government. As a result, per capita water use has declined, holding the total water demand at a steady level while the population increases. In 2004 the program received a boost with a new strategic plan that expanded its reach in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. Demand-management initiatives have delayed any expansion of the water supply until beyond 2054. This will save the municipality approximately $12 million to $50 million and will protect the ecological integrity of the Sooke River watershed, even in low-flow seasons.


The Greater Victoria region, on the southern end of Vancouver Island, receives the majority of its yearly precipitation between October and May. A high demand in summer for water is satisfied by a 92-billion-litre reservoir formed by a dam on the Sooke River. The reservoir stores abundant winter rainwater. In the early 1990s, due to poor public awareness and a lack of strategic planning, high summer demand created supply-management problems.

Stemming from these concerns, some demand-management tools and programs, such as educational pamphlets on backyard water conservation and rebates for low-volume toilets, were incorporated into the 20-year strategic plan in 1994. When these demand-management initiatives began in 1994, they were administered by one full-time coordinator with an annual budget of $50,000. Currently, there are five full-time staff and four summer students who run the full range of demand-management initiatives, operating with a $1.24 million annual budget.

The goal of the programs is to maintain a supply reliability of 96 per cent, which refers to the probability of maintaining a sufficient minimum water level in the reservoir. They must also maintain sufficient flow levels for salmon spawning habitat in the Sooke River. Through public education and community engagement, the CRD hopes to reduce per capita demand by 15 to 30 per cent over the next 50 years. The CRD aims to administer conservation programs over the same time period, which will be a lower overall cost than the expense of expanding the water supply.


  • Per capita water use has declined by six per cent in the past 10 years, enabling the region to grow without increasing total water demand. These results put the CRD on target to defer expansion of the water supply for 50 years.
  • Residential toilet and washing machine rebates have saved 300 million litres annually, replacing a demand equivalent to 1,100 homes.
  • ICI audits and incentives in the past two years have saved 150 million litres, replacing a demand equivalent to 550 homes. Research has also shown that two billion litres could be saved annually by replacing "once-through" cooling systems in ICI facilities.
  • Water has been made available for release into the Sooke River, improving the salmon spawning habitat. A 2002 agreement with the T'Sou-ke First Nation guarantees water resource sharing between the CRD and the Sooke River salmon fishery.
  • Demand-management programs have reduced the amounts of energy and materials used in treating, transporting and heating water. As the region undertakes municipal wastewater treatment in the upcoming years, operating costs will also be minimized.
  • Public knowledge about drinking water sources has risen, as has customer support for conservation initiatives.

Lessons Learned

  • TAKE A LONG-TERM APPROACH TO WATER CONSERVATION. "If we plan ahead 50 years, the value of conservation becomes really clear and may be expressed objectively in economic terms," says Colwyn Sunderland, the CRD's demand-management coordinator. He adds, "This can't all be done overnight, but careful planning and investment of funds and effort in a few early successes will allow a strong program to evolve over a few years. Some practitioners have observed that it takes a decade to build a good conservation program."
  • COMMUNICATE WELL WITH RESIDENTS. Social challenges can often prove more difficult than technical ones. As Sunderland notes, "Many Greater Victoria residents hold a deeply rooted misconception that we live in a rainforest when in fact we are in a rain shadow." Maintaining a high level of contact with the public is essential for changing attitudes. By attending community events, offering workshops and maintaining a telephone hotline, conservation personnel are able to reach more than 25,000 people annually.
  • STRIKE A BALANCE. "Establish programs that balance policy, such as watering restrictions, with incentives and education," Sunderland advises. Educational components must be highly visible in the community, while incentive programs should focus first on easy targets, such as old toilets and shower heads in homes and inefficient equipment in businesses. Measurable results are also essential to a program's success; therefore, a fully metered system is advisable.
  • LEARN FROM ADVERSITY. "The severe drought of 2001 became a teachable moment for us because it required virtually a total ban on lawn watering, supported by an aggressive public awareness campaign, to ensure the water supply lasted through the summer and fall," says Sunderland. The result was that both residents and businesses grew more aware and began to evaluate their own water use. Along with an 18 per cent reduction in total demand in 2001, a lasting reduction of two per cent has occurred in all the years following. By capitalizing on this opportunity to put creative demand-management initiatives into effect, the municipality has been able to keep water conservation in the public eye ever since.

Partners and Collaboration

  • American Waterworks Association Research Foundation
  • British Columbia Water and Waste Association
  • Brock University (Canadian Water Network)
  • Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Canadian Water and Wastewater Association
  • Horticulture Centre of the Pacific
  • Irrigation Industry Association of British Columbia
  • Islands Trust
  • Peninsula Agricultural Commission and British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands
  • Regional Water Supply Commission
  • Swan Lake Nature Centre
  • T'Sou-ke First Nation
  • University of Victoria (NSERC-IRC Program on Environmental Management of Drinking Water)
  • Venture Market Research
  • Water Advisory Committee
Page Updated: 21/12/2015