Environmental Science & Engineering - March 2002

Victoria's strategy when facing the drought

By Deborah Walker, Capital Regional District

During 2001, there was a severe water shortage in Victoria's Capital Regional District (CRD); this was a situation unlike anything the region had previously experienced.

The CRD Water Department is responsible for the supply, treatment and delivery of bulk drinking water to the greater Victoria area, the second largest municipal water system in BC. These combined municipalities represent a population of about 315,000 people. Victoria is also renowned as the City of Gardens.

The Capital Region draws all of its supply from above ground reservoirs, primarily from the Sooke Reservoir, which has a capacity of 12 billion gallons. The delivery capacity is approximately 100 MIGD. The Goldstream Reservoir serves as back-up and has a capacity of 2.2 billion gallons.

The Victoria area depends on rainfall to fill its reservoirs. While it normally gets about 1,210 mm (48") of rain during the winter months, rainfall during the 2000/2001 winter was about half of this amount -- the lowest rainfall since 1900. This lack of rainfall dropped reservoir levels by over 30% from the normal.

Water usage during the summer months is usually double the winter usage. On a ten year average, usage runs at about 52 MIGD in the critical summer months. To add additional challenges, the normal summer rainfall, which is only about 90 mm (3.5"), was even less during the summer of 2001.

The Sooke reservoir in scenic Victoria, BC.

What we did

Sooke Reservoir normally fills and spills every year; this year it did not. Last March, the Sooke Reservoir was only at 70% of capacity and Goldstream was only at 95% of capacity. CRD Water Department enacted a drought management plan for decisive action in three key areas. These actions were:

The overall goal of this three pronged approach was to reduce water use by 25-30% from normal summer use numbers. This was not only a matter of water quantity, but also one of water quality. In 1998, the Sooke Reservoir fell below the three billion-gallon level (25% of capacity), with turbidity occasionally exceeding 1 NTU. It was estimated that even with a water consumption reduction of 25-30% the reservoir would likely drop below the four billion level required to ensure good water quality.

If all else failed there was also a contingency plan to pump the North (deep) end of the Sooke Reservoir.

The Sooke Reservoir is shaped like a spoon. The intake tower is on the shallow end (handle) of the reservoir. We normally take water from the top five to seven metres of the reservoir. The contingency plan called for us to place a temporary pumping station on a floating barge in the deep end (bowl) and draw from that.

CRD Water Department wanted to avoid this scenario, not only because of the costs, but water had never been drawn for the North end and it was unknown if water quality would be compromised.

We had to make our drought management plan work and the only way was with the cooperation of all residents.

Stage 3 Restrictions

The first thing we needed to do was to impose the outdoor watering restrictions. The weather and the restrictions hurt some businesses such as landscapers and pressure washer companies, but others such as bulk water suppliers, well diggers, and micro-irrigation people benefited.

The by-law stated that:

By-Law Enforcement

The first time offenders were issued a letter of complaint. On the second offence a by-law enforcement officer visited the property to investigate the watering infraction, and the third time the officer issued a ticket. The minimum fine was $100 plus costs and the maximum fine $2,000. CRD wanted fines to be a method of last resort because we needed voluntary cooperation to get us through this time period.

Awareness Campaign

To achieve the reduction limits, five key messages were developed to convey to individual consumers the need for their full participation and compliance with the water restriction by-law: 1) The severe water shortage problem was real; 2) That every individual's actions made a difference; 3) The water restriction by-law was equitable in that everyone was asked to conserve water: residents, businesses, and public bodies; 4) That by conserving, each person helped the community get through the water shortage; and 5) That water efficiency was easy. Information was provided on water efficiency actions.


CRD Water set a water consumption reduction of 25-30% and we did accomplish this goal. The actual reduction over the six-month period was 27.8%. The cost to implement this campaign was approximately $200,000. However, Victorians continued to have water and we avoided the costly pumping station.

Were there other costs? Absolutely. There were millions of dollars in lost revenues to particular businesses and, of course, revenue loss to CRD Water totalled $2.5 million.

If there is a silver lining to every cloud, then the drought was instrumental in raising the awareness of the community as to where our water comes from, that it is not limitless, and it encouraged the adoption of water conservation technologies and practices. We anticipate a 10% reduction next summer over our 10-year average because of the new mindset within Victoria.

This article was abridged from Environmental Science & Engineering magazine, which also contains many more articles not posted on our Web Site. See our home page on how to order your subscription. We regret we can only accept orders from Canada and the United States.