With the recent restrictions on lawn watering, Dawson Creek residents may be scratching their heads wondering why the City of Dawson Creek is still watering gardens, sports fields and hanging baskets.
Barry Reynard, director of community services, said he has received calls from frustrated residents asking why the City is maintaining its watering program while they have been prohibited from watering lawns, but he said the City’s crews still have to abide by the requirement for automatic shut-off devices when watering flowers.
“There’s nothing under the current restrictions that we are doing that is any different than what a homeowner can do,” he said. “Though challenges are a little different in regards to protection of turf, we’re out there trying to be as efficient as any homeowner.”
Parks manager Darcy Perrin said while the public sports fields and other greenspaces are irrigated by automatic sprinkler systems, those systems are monitored and regulated closely, and watering is done during the night or early morning to maximize the effectiveness and prevent loss due to evaporation. He added in regards to many boulevards – such as the ones on the NAR Park grounds or along Eighth Street – those irrigation systems have not been used for the past couple of years in an effort to conserve water.
He said maintaining the sports fields for users does require constant watering, however.
“We require water to promote healthy turf for safe play, and also to minimize or delete the use of herbicides on those sports fields,” he said. “If we do not maintain that turf, we will lose the integrity of the field and will be overcome with weeds or dry out, so the playability of those fields will be lost, and once you lose it you won’t get it back.”
However, he said the City is investigating using recycled wastewater from its new Reclaimed Water Plant for sports field irrigation.
“If we could use that reclaimed water for the sports fields, there would be a significant decrease in water usage,” he said.
Kevin Henderson, director of infrastructure and sustainable development, said the permit from the Ministry of Environment currently restricts the use of that reclaimed water to hydraulic fracturing and other applications by the oil and gas industry, which is what that facility was meant for an effort to reduce industry consumption of potable water. He said the Ministry has indicated it requires water quality data on that reclaimed water before any additional use will be permitted, so it will likely not be until next summer that sports field irrigation can be considered. He added at that time, city council will have to consider how much of that water is available for that use and whether some of that water should be diverted from industry uses if necessary.
The City has also converted some flower beds – one on 17 Street in the Crescent Park area, one in the traffic circle at the intersection of Eighth Street and Alaska Avenue, and two more at the Newby and Kitchen Parks – to xeriscape gardens, which utilize drought-resistant plants and bark mulch to help retain moisture.
“This year, we have not watered our xeroscape beds once, and they seem to be doing well,” said Perrin.
He added they are looking to convert the flower beds near the airport and on along Highway 97 North coming into the city into xeroscape gardens as well.
“Those are rather large beds and they require a fair amount of water, so by changing them to xeroscape beds and planting perennials, it will significantly decrease the amount of water being used.”
By comparison, he said regular garden beds might require watering at least once a day depending on weather conditions. He said that still applies to some of the smaller beds both in the ground and in containers where xeroscaping would not make sense. However, he said, however the City has implemented a pilot project for some of the beds outside of City Hall and the RCMP detachment that now use plastic containers with built-in reservoirs, which prevents over-watering and results in minimal loss of water due to evaporation.
“Another project that we are currently looking into is capturing water on the Multiplex building, so that instead of that going straight into the storm sewers, collecting it in tanks in the ground that could be used for our hanging baskets and annual beds,” he said, adding stormwater utilization may be an area for further efficiencies down the road.
Perrin said the annual flower beds and baskets are checked once a day but only watered as needed. He said all of the annual beds require an average of 500 gallons per day, and for all bedding plants and hanging baskets, he estimates about 75,000 gallons are used between June and the first frost of the year in the fall.
In regards to new trees being planted, Perrin said the City has utilized “gator bags,” or self-watering tree bags, to maximize water use.
“We’re trying to maintain our urban forestry, but new and young trees in a [dry] year like this will really suffer greatly because they are still trying to grow, so what we do is strap the bags on, fill them up, and it’s a slow release that goes through the ground, and there’s no pooling of water or loss to evaporation, it goes straight to the root ball.”
Perrin said he is concerned about the trend of drier summers in recent years, adding this last winter was the driest he can remember in nearly 30 years.
“I believe it’s an extreme challenge. It is something that we weren’t used to until about four or five years ago – we would have a hot, dry year, but then everything would be okay – but things seem to be changing in the climate and we have to adjust to make things work. We want to continue to be a vibrant city and have it look good, but at the same time we have to be efficient.”
Henderson said the level of the Kiskatinaw River at the weir in Arras has dropped slightly since Stage 3 water conservation measures were announced last week, but that level seems to be holding steady. However, he said without some significant rainfall to recharge the river, the trend indicates the City may have to consider Stage 4 conservation measures in the near future. That would essentially cut non-essential water use, including carwashes and hauling bulk water for non-potable uses.
The current conservation measures prohibit lawn watering, but watering of gardens, decorative planters, shrubs or trees is still permitted provided it is carried out with a hose equipped with an automatic shut off device. More information on conservation measures can be found online at www.dawsoncreek.ca.