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Candidate, city can't agree on water projections

The City of Abbotsford has over-projected its future water needs, claims council candidate Henry Braun.

Other candidates have also publicly questioned city hall’s water-use estimates.

However, city officials say Braun has limited his conclusions, without taking into account key factors affecting water use.

Braun points out that water consumption over the past five years has dropped.

“It appears that the city has been using inflated projections, rather than actual usage, for the years of 2007 through 2011.”

The trend in peak water use has been downward since 2007. Braun said average daily use has also decreased by 10 per cent over the last four years.

In 2007, the city’s peak usage was 139.2 million litres in a day (MLD). In 2008 it dropped to 119.8 MLD, went to 126.6 in 2009, 106.8 in 2010 and last year it was 93.1.

The average daily use has dropped from 78.2 MLD in 2007 to 70.6 MLD as of Sept. 30, 2011.

Braun said consumption has gone down “in spite of the fact our population has grown in these four years and new business has been added.”

The city’s information campaign regarding the need for a new water supply and treatment centre at Stave Lake shows a projected steady increase in usage that could surpass supply by 2016.

Jim Gordon, Abbotsford’s general manager of engineering and regional utilities, said he isn’t arguing with Braun’s figures; in fact, they are available on the city’s website.

However, he does have some concerns with the interpretation.

“If you just look at the five figures, it appears as though the usage has gone down. But there are a lot of other factors at play ... You don’t plan a water system on five points of data,” said Gordon.

He said 2011 was an abnormally cool year, which played a huge role in keeping consumption down, as did an unpopular watering ban in 2010.

“We can’t bet that Mother Nature will give us cool Julys every year ... probability is, we are going to have another hot July, like we did in 2007, when our water use came very close to our capacity.”

He said three or four days of 35-degree weather in mid-July would have a “dramatic” effect on consumption, which could easily surpass the 139 MLD mark reached in 2007, despite the recent reductions.

“Engineers can’t say it will probably be okay; it absolutely has to be okay.”

Gordon said the projections are based on a worst-case scenario.

“They have to be.”

July appears to be a key month for water use. Gordon said higher temperatures in August and September, don’t create the same demand

“My point is, you can’t just look at a few figures, which is why we hire the consultants to do the master plans .. you need a more comprehensive study ... We can’t be hoping we have enough water, we have to know.”

He said five years is a “pretty small snapshot” and growth and consumpion trends need to be examined for 10 or 20 years.

But Braun feels the projections will confuse some voters.

“The numbers used by the city have had the effect of scaring some people into thinking that if they don’t vote yes, we will run out of water very soon,” said Braun.

Braun believes water usage in 2012 will drop again, “because water conservation hasn’t kicked in yet.”

Two-tiered billing and a higher awareness of the city’s need for water will cause people to conserve even more, he said.

Braun does agree with the city that a steady rise in water use will occur due to population and business growth.

“But that trajectory is entirely different from what the city is claiming.”

By comparing the peak usage of the past few years, Braun has concluded that the present water system could be sufficient until 2020 and beyond.

“That gives us time to look at some alternatives.”

City manager Frank Pizzuto said people can’t look at a few years and decide things are fine.

“Are you going to gamble on the weather and say, for the last three years we’ve had good weather so we’re going to be okay?

“Or are you going to rely on extensive studies?

“I believe that water, unlike other commodities, needs to be available 100 per cent of the time for residents and business. Anything less is unacceptable,” Pizzuto said.

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