By Julia Pepler

In Vancouver, we are lucky to have clean water gushing from our taps at a moment's notice. We don’t think twice about drinking tap water, taking long showers, watering our gardens or flushing our toilets. But where does all of this water come from?

In Vancouver, we are lucky to have clean water gushing from our taps at a moment's notice. We don’t think twice about drinking tap water, taking long showers, watering our gardens or flushing our toilets. But where does all of this water come from?

This week is #DrinkingWaterWeek—the perfect opportunity to investigate the glorious clean water that runs from our taps. Vancouver is surrounded by ocean, mountains, lakes, and rivers. Vancouver’s freshwater accumulates from snowmelt and rainfall, and is collected into three main reservoirs. The Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam reservoirs are all located in the North Shore mountains and they account for 100% of Vancouver's drinking water.

The water runs towards Vancouver’s main water filtration plant downstream of the Seymour reservoir. There, the water is filtered to remove turbidity (cloudiness) and dangerous bacteria (such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and E. coli)1. The water is filtered further to help reduce the amount of chlorine needed as a disinfectant. When the entire process is done, Vancouver’s water is utterly odourless, colourless, and tasteless.

The Capilano Resivoir. Image: Unsplash

But our drinking water system isn’t perfect. With heavy rainfall in the winter and droughts in the summer, Vancouver is seeing climate change directly affect our drinking water supply. While much of our drinking water comes from rainfall-runoff into our three reservoirs, we also heavily rely on snowmelt. Snowmelt from the North Shore mountains creates a steady source of drinking water into our reservoirs all summer long.

In the winter of 2014/2015, Vancouver saw virtually no snowpack accumulation on the North Shore mountains, the lowest it had ever been.2 And the following summer, Vancouver experienced a Level 4 drought with strict Stage 3 water restrictions demanding that Vancouverites work together to reduce daily water consumption.3

Metro Vancouver is predicting a 56% snowpack decrease by the 2050s.4 This means that our once reliable summer water source will run dry. While the city works towards big solutions to this problem, we’re looking at ways you can reduce your water consumption throughout the year.

Image: Jesse Montgomery/Metro Vancouver

While the situation seems bleak, there are plenty of ways that each of us can conserve our valuable drinking water sources.

1. Follow water restrictions

Vancouver’s annual water restrictions have begun. Measures are put into place to start conserving water before summer begins. As of May 1st, residents must follow a set schedule for when to water their lawns and gardens. To stay up to date with new restrictions, we suggest you download the free VanConnect app or check Metro Vancouver’s water restriction page

2. Find small ways to change your habits

There are countless ways that you can reduce your water consumption habits over time. Back in November, I spent 24 hours restricting my water use in every way I could think of. Taking shorter showers, only doing full loads of laundry, and only using one glass or bottle for drinking water each day are just a few small ways you can contribute to water conservation.

3. Create a rainfall catch

It’s not too late to start collecting rainwater! If you have a balcony or yard, an easy way to help reduce water is to set up a rainfall catch in the winter/spring. When summer comes around, you’ll have a large reserve of water to water your plants, garden, or other household uses. You can set up something small like a bucket with fine mesh to keep critters out, DIY a catch from a garbage can, or go all out with a large barrel connected to your eavestroughs

Image: Jaroslav A. Polák

While we are incredibly fortunate to have access to clean drinking water in Vancouver, many communities in Canada and millions of people around the world are not so lucky. We should always be working to conserve what we have, and taking every precaution to protect clean water for all. Clean safe drinking water is a precious resource. It is the foundation for healthy communities. Next time you turn on your tap, reflect upon the incredible journey that your water went through from snowmelt to rivers, water treatment plants, and pipes to your home. The actions that we take every day can shape a future where everyone has access to drinkable waters. This Drinking Water Week, remember that water is among Canada’s most valuable natural resources, and we should value it as such.


Check out this awesome video by CBC’s Uytae Lee on Metro Vancouver’s drinking water (which heavily inspired this blog). 



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