Navigating Water Needs in a Housing Crisis

Public and Private Potable Water Systems and Existing and Emerging Water Conservation Strategies

On June 15, 2023 Salt Spring Solutions, the SSI Watershed Protection Alliance and Transition Salt Spring co-hosted a free community workshop focused on the opportunities and challenges of using potable rainwater on the islands for commercial, institutional and multiunit development. The workshop was grounded in the expert information and insight provided by Gord Baird of EcoSense. It was attended by 25 people, representing 12 local and regional agencies, organizations and businesses.

The first half of the workshop included a welcome, territorial acknowledgement and Mr. Baird’s presentation. Mr. Gord Baird presented on the complex intersectionality of navigating water policy and the housing crisis in British Columbia, highlighting the challenges of planning within the context of limited water resources and unpredictable weather patterns, particularly in small communities. He provided a detailed overview of the regulations surrounding rainwater and water systems, including required operating permits for multiunit housing and exemptions for single homes. Since using rainwater as a potable source for multiunit housing can be prohibitively expensive and complicated, he suggested using rainwater for non-potable uses and having separate systems for suites and houses. Mr. Baird raised other key considerations including the importance of working closely with health authorities, planning for ongoing expenses for operations and systems replacement and recognizing there is a shortage of qualified professionals to design and manage larger systems.

Following the formal presentation and questions, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss their organization’s challenges and opportunities as related to rainwater harvesting.

Participants discussed various ideas for incentivizing water conservation, including offering credits for rainwater systems and implementing a tiered pricing system for excessive water usage. They also contemplated using fees for excessive water use to fund incentive programs for water conservation and/or rebates for rainwater harvesting. Some small groups discussed the potential of a “water density transfer” program through which property owners could buy, donate or sell water rights between properties to allow for housing in preferable locations. Properties that have been privately donated for conservation or parks were cited as examples of potential donee properties within an existing water district. Many participants acknowledged while there has been considerable water conservation education and some incentivization, there remains an urgent need for an elevated public awareness and action on regulations, as well as alternatives to achieve water conservation and sustainable individual and community-wide behaviours related to freshwater resources.

After reconvening as a bigger group, participants continued to discuss the challenges and complexities of water management in multi-unit buildings, including the cost burden, regulatory hurdles, and need for more certified operators, through to the end of the workshop. Participants considered some ideas for improving the existing system such as replicating the Washington State standards that allow regulation exemptions for up to four units (current BC regulations only allow for a single dwelling), creating a local association of rainwater professionals to serve the region, offering scholarships to encourage more local certified professionals, and employing a “whole community” approach to water planning, use, and management.

Participants were asked to share the information and ideas from the workshop back to their own teams and colleagues, and continue looking for ways to advocate for and integrate rainwater solutions into multiunit, institutional and commercial project on the islands.

Participating Organizations: Islands Trust, Capital Regional District, BC Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, Local Community Council, Country Grocer, Farmland Trust Society, North Salt Spring Water District, Islanders Working Against Violence, Dragonfly Commons, SSI Community Services, School District 64, Water Preservation Society

The event was sponsored by Transition Salt Spring, Salt Spring Solutions and Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance (SSIWPA)

Watch the presentation or download the power point!


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