Water usage still high in Merritt, despite recent drops

·4 min read

Merritt City Council held a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the water supply situation in Merritt on Dec. 1.

At the meeting, there was a review of both Merritt’s water usage statistics and a review of the City’s Water Utility Master Plan, which was created in 2012.

Also discussed were the possibilities of drawing from alternate wells or aquifers, and potential ways to support higher flows in the Coldwater River, which has experienced severe drought conditions over the past several years, potentially endangering fish, aquatic life and the river ecosystem.

“I know that this is something that has been top of mind for council as well as the public as we’ve had watering restrictions now for two years running, where we’ve gotten to the highest level of water restrictions,” said City CAO Sean Smith at the beginning of the meeting.

Smith also acknowledged that there were key stakeholders missing from the meeting, namely representatives of the Nicola Watershed Governance Project, due to the new COVID-19 precautions and the nature of the ‘hybrid’ meeting, which took place partially in person and partially via technology.

However, Smith was quick to caution that nothing discussed at the Committee of the Whole Meeting would move forward without further study and consultation, as no options or suggestions are considered immediately actionable.

“Further study is going to be required,” said Smith.

“There’s lots that we do know but there’s still lots that we don’t know about our water supply and so I think this is going to be an important discussion for the coming years.”

According to a report presented to council, average water consumption in Canada is 427 litres per person, per day (427 l/p/d). The BC average is 503 l/p/d, while Merritt’s is 742/l/p/d. Several reasons for higher consumption in Merritt were given, including reduced density and development which generally results in more lawn and garden water use, as well as the fact that small, rural towns like Merritt do not generally use water meters.

That being said, there has been a staggering 43.3% decrease in Merritt’s per person water usage between 2006 and 2019.

“Water usage is trending in the right direction in the City of Merritt, and has been for quite some time now… it’s important for council and the public to understand that everyone’s doing really well with water consumption,” said Smith.

“This isn’t something we need to beat over people’s heads to quite the same degree. I think that residents in the Nicola Valley are changing their consumption habits and its resulting in positive things for the aquifer generally.”

Due to the strict water restrictions put in place in 2019, one of the Nicola Valley’s driest years, it is believed that 742 l/p/d is likely close to the minimum annual usage achievable at Merritt’s current density.

There are four main wells that the City of Merritt draws its water from, each is classified as ‘Ground Water Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water (GUDI)’ wells. Wells of this type have additional health requirements, such as dual barrier treatment through UV disinfection, which has now been implemented at all City wells.

There was some discussion about increasing Merritt’s water capacity by further use of the Kengard Well, a topic that has been on the table and hotly debated for several years. However, recent changes in health regulations have limited the City’s ability to utilize the Kengard Well more fully, as the water is extremely hard and now has higher than typically acceptable levels of Manganese.

Currently, according to the Water Utility Master Plan, Merritt can see population growth of up to 14,496, (roughly 7,400 more than the current number), even if usage were increased to 880 l/p/d. There is also sufficient storage to support a population of 14,496. However, if developments proceed at higher elevations such as Exit 286 or the North Bench, additional reservoirs or similar alternatives would likely be needed to ensure adequate water pressure.

Staff acknowledges that the Water Utility Master Plan is deficient in that it does not consider drought effects on the Coldwater River and the potential impacts on both the river and the City’s needs; it also overstates the maximum well capacity.

According to the report, “Unless alternatives for increasing flows to the Coldwater River are possible, the two above factors likely create a need for the City to consider future water sources, where it wasn’t previously seen as being needed to facilitate future growth.”

Should there be a need for additional future water sources, the City will undertake further studies, consultation and recommendations to supplement the community’s water needs.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald