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DANIEL SUCAR
The 1019 Report

Despite multiple efforts from elected officials to tighten water restrictions and reduce strain on the town’s groundwater network, St. Lazare’s summer water consumption continues to be high.

There is still no need to sound the alarm for the town’s aquifers and water reserves, Mayor Geneviève Lachance says, but the high consumption rate is a sign that habits among St. Lazare residents need to change – and soon.

“We’re pretty much staying at a high consumption level, and we did have a week in July where our barometers showed our consumption was excessive,” she said last week. “But we do monitor our water table and aquifers regularly, and we’re still pretty stable.”

Water consumption has long been a contentious topic in the town. Unlike many Quebec municipalities, St. Lazare relies on groundwater, rather than water reserves in lakes.

Counting on groundwater means having access to natural filtration and overall higher water quality, but it also comes with disadvantages – namely, it takes longer for water reserves to recuperate through rain and snow melt. Depending on the type of aquifer, groundwater recharge can take several years.

And the process takes even longer when water consumption is high. In St. Lazare, that’s the case during the summer, when the outdoor use of potable water tends to increase by roughly 110 per cent on a monthly basis.

“Half of our population doesn’t know where our water actually comes from,” Lachance said, referencing the findings of a door-to-door initiative launched by the town’s student-led blue patrol. “If they don’t know where our water comes from, then they’re not even thinking about their usage and its effects on our limited reserves.”

According to the latest Rapport annuel sur la gestion de l’eau potable, residential water use in the municipality was 224 litres per person per day in 2020, 40 litres above the provincial target set at 184 litres per person per day. Comparative data for 2021 from the province will only be made available to the town next year.

High water consumption, combined with a long groundwater recharge process, can be a recipe for disaster, Lachance said. Case in point: in the summers of 2020 and 2021, the town was forced to impose an all-out ban on watering lawns and filling swimming pools due to excessive consumption.

“We do produce enough water to cover our needs,” the mayor said, adding that no such bans are planned for this year. “But if you consume too much water too fast for too long, we can’t recharge our aquifers fast enough, and that’s when we run into trouble.”

In a bid to lower the consumption rate and meet provincial water usage targets, the municipal council has adopted various preventative measures in recent months. The town has shortened the periods residents are permitted to water new and existing vegetation and now requires homeowners to rely on tankers to fill their swimming pools. The town also has disallowed the use of new private wells where municipal aqueducts are available.

Not all these measures have been well received. On social media, the town’s water usage updates have been met with disparaging comments from St. Lazare residents who blame the overconsumption on additional housing projects. The exchanges have prompted some residents to call on the council to impose a building freeze on new developments.

In response, the mayor explains it is impossible to stop development outright without incurring lawsuits from private landowners and defying government orders to densify sectors.

But even if it were possible, she says there is no reason to do so. St. Lazare’s population is 22,000 and growing. According to studies, it has enough water to comfortably grow to 27,000 if residents scale back their water usage.

“It’s not about new housing development; it’s about excessive water consumption in the summer months,” Lachance said. “Of course, more homes mean more water needed. But we have data that shows water consumption only peaks in the summer. Any other time of the year, we stay in the normal range.”

The mayor admits the council can implement as many protective measures as it deems necessary but, ultimately, any change in water consumption must come from residents. While the council is currently looking at creating a back-up plan for managing future developments if residents cannot reduce their water usage in the summer, she remains hopeful a change in habits is on the horizon.

“It would be nice if people could just open their minds to the possibility that they are part of the problem, but also part of the solution,” Lachance said. “At the end of the day, we all have a part to play in this.”

Cutline:

Information boards in St. Lazare illustrate the level of water consumption. This public awareness campaign is aimed at helping residents understand they play a role in managing their personal water use.

Credit:
The 1019 Report

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