This past week, I attended the 2015 Sustainable Communities Conference in London, Ontario. Hosted annually by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), this conference brings together municipal leaders, sustainability experts, non-profits and others to talk about how we can make our communities more sustainable. I have attended this conference three times now, and each time I leave I feel overwhelmed with all that I have learned, energized by the success others are having, and excited by the possibilities of making improvements in both my own life, but more importantly in the City of Selkirk. The story of how the Town of Okotoks, Alberta cut their per capita water use by 46% is a perfect example of why I leave this conference so totally charged!
Meeting Dawn Smith and Talking Water Conservation
One of the greatest parts of the Sustainable Communities Conference is the opportunity to meet sustainability keeners (I tried to get the label “greeners” started..get it? Green-keeners…yeah no one else liked it either). In an afternoon workshop, participants got to “speed date” three of 14 different leaders to discuss the topic of putting sustainability plans into action. I took the opportunity to sit at the table of Dawn Smith from the Town of Okotoks (second person on the left in the award photo above). As the table discussion transitioned from pleasantries and introductions to the depths of the Okotok’s water conservation efforts, Dawn leaned forward, the pace of her words quickened and her eyes widened – she was most definitely a keener. The rest of the table discussion participants feed of of her energy and asked deeper and more insightful questions as our 20 minute time limit drew near.
The Water Conservation and the Town of Okotoks
Since 1998, the Town of Okotoks has had ‘smart growth’ principles embedded in its Municipal Development Plan. In fact the town made the bold decision to limit its growth to match its local watershed’s ability to provide water. At that time, based on a water-use target of 318 litres per capita per day (Ipcd) – the town placed a population growth limit of about 30,000 people.
In 2001, the town’s water use was 510 Ipcd, which meant they had to achieve a 38% reduction in per capita water use to reach their 318 Ipcd target. To do this, the town developed their first Water Management Plan in 2002, which they updated in 2005 and 2008. Since 2002, the programs and measures they implemented have reduced their water consumption to an amazing 273 Ipcd (2013) – a 46% reduction in just 10 years. All of this while their population increased by 45%!
The South Saskatchewan River Basin Licence Moratorium
In 2006 the Province of Alberta put a moratorium on the issuance of new water license for the South Saskatchewan River Basin, the basin in which the Town of Okotoks is located. This meant that the only way a community could source new water was to purchase licenses off of existing holders. As you can imagine made all of the existing license very, very valuable. Because the town of Okotoks was able to reduce their per capita water consumption – they were able to limit the number of licenses they had to buy to only nine even though their population was exploding. The town estimates that they saved $66 million dollars by not having to purchase 11.6 million cubic metres worth of water licenses. The town also estimates that they saved $1.3 million in energy costs by not having to treat and pump the conserved water.
Okotoks Wins a 2015 FCM Sustainability Award for their Water Conservation Success
Later that same day, the Town of Okotoks was recognized by the FCM for their water conservation plan and successes. The photo at the top of the page is from the award ceremony. The video below was produced by the FCM and explains why the Okotoks water conservation program is award winning.
You can lean also read more about their FCM Award Highlights
Water Conservation in the City of Selkirk
Learning about Okotoks’ water conservation success comes at the perfect time. At the City of Selkirk, we are just entering the planning stage of our own water conservation program. While the necessity for our program is slightly different than Okotoks, the key driver is the same – water availability from our current source just will not be sufficient. We are currently exploring options to bring water in from outside of our municipal boundaries. We are forced to do this because the geological formation of the aquifer under the City of Selkirk simply does not allow for more water to be drawn, even though ground water in the region is abundant. It is critical that the City work to reduce its water use if it is going to source water from outside its boundaries. Our neighbours expect nothing less. The Town of Okotoks has set a great example for the City of Selkirk. Their bold vision and commitment to action is something that we in Selkirk should try to replicate. They have shown us what is possible and I think we can learn a great deal from their hard work.
Thank You Okotoks
At the end of the round table discussion, Dawn provided digital copies of the Town’s new Water Conservation, Efficiency and Productivity Plan (guess what I’ll be reading on the plane ride home). Thank you to the Town of Okotoks for leading the way, being a national role model and thank you for sending Dawn to share your story!