A golden rule for lawns

Sarah Thomas is calling on the city to quit watering parks and boulevards in face of water restrictions.

Sarah Thomas is calling on the city to stop watering their lawns.

Sarah Thomas is calling on the city to stop watering their lawns.

If you see unwatered lawns popping up in Port Alberni soon, don’t think of them as brown—think of them as golden.

That’s the message that Alberni Valley Transition Town Society member Sarah Thomas is hoping to send through a golden lawns campaign.

“It will come back,” said Thomas of brown grass. “The grass won’t die if you don’t water it.”

The city entered stage one of water restrictions on June 8 but Thomas doesn’t think that’s enough.

Stage one restricts lawn watering to even or odd days corresponding with a house’s address for four hours in the morning and four in the evening.

City parks, school and sports fields are exempt however—and that’s something Thomas wants to change.

“We’re in a serious situation and I don’t think they realize just how serious,” she said, adding that it’s about setting the example as much as conserving water.

Parks, recreation and heritage director Scott Kenny said that while city green spaces are exempt, they’re really already only being watered three times a week and the soil-based parks and city boulevards—the ones that can go dormant rather than die if unwatered—will be watered less as restrictions ramp up.

“If we go to stage two… then we go to two days a week. Stage three, one day a week and stage four we would discontinue watering except if there happen to be trees in the boulevards or the parks that were stressed,” said Kenny.

Thomas wants them to go one step further and stop watering all together and instead embrace the ‘golden’ lawn concept.

Coun. Chris Alemany said he’d be on board.

“By all means, that would be something that I would support,” said Alemany.

“It seems like a simple thing for the city to do.”

The situation, Thomas said, is dire and much hotter and drier than before.

It’s certainly hotter—May 2015 having been the hottest May on record since Environment Canada began keeping records at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport weather station in 1993.

And June 2015 is set to follow with an average temperature of 36.6 degrees—again, hotter than any June since 1993.

The situation on the mountains is no better, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre.

Vancouver Island is at zero per cent snowpack as of June 15. That’s down from three per cent on June 1, which was down 32 per cent compared to June 1, 2014 (historical records for June 15 were not available).

According to the River Forecast Centre, “flows are at or near minimum levels for this time of year in most rivers on Vancouver Island… current flows in these regions are below levels normally observed in late-summer.”

The Sproat River is at “10 per cent of the median flow and below the recorded minimum flow for this period of time.”

The Island is also at level three drought conditions, according to the province—a level not reached in the region since the province started declaring drought levels with the development of the B.C. Drought Response Plan in 2010.

While the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations couldn’t comment on the likelihood of reaching stage four, that stage is the level at which the province could begin to implement its own restrictions on water usage.

According to the 2015 BC Drought Response Plan, level four drought could mean “regulatory  controls under the Water Act, Fish Protection Act or other statutes as appropriate if voluntary measures are not enough to protect water users and fish,” ministry public affairs officer Greig Bethel confirmed.

“Should conditions reach Level 4, provincial and regional water managers may exercise their authority to temporarily suspend short-term water permits or industrial water licences in affected watersheds.”

But Kenny said that reports from the city’s engineering department­ will dictate the city’s  watering schedule.

“The approach that we’re taking is that we’ll change the [watering] program based on the stages of water conservation the city is at,” said Kenny.

“That’s the way it needs to be. Saying that we’re going to stop watering without following the various stages in water restrictions is kind of pointless—why even have any stages? They’re set for a reason.”

While Vancouver Island is in stage three drought, city engineer Guy Cicon said that Port Alberni water restrictions will be dictated by levels of its drinking water supply system­—Lizard Lake, China Creek and Bainbridge Lake.

“We continue to monitor stream flow and lake levels, consumption and the weather to guide us to our next decision for stage two,” said Cicon, noting that stage one restrictions have already led to lower water usage.

“We still have our stream flow and lake levels that are consistent with the level one water restrictions. When that changes we will implement a further restriction.”