Water restrictions unfairly restricting businesses?

Comox Valley businesses upset with regional district after being slammed by two-week pipe repair

The owner of a window cleaning service is facing a crisis tomorrow when Stage 4 water restrictions come into effect for the Comox Valley Water System.

The restrictions begin April 12 and last until April 22 during an emergency water pipe repair.

Spring months provide the prime source of income for Dwayne Robertson, who owns Shine-Eze Window Care. The CVRD requires him to stockpile water before Friday. During the restrictions, he is not allowed to use any water source in Comox or Courtenay.

“I can still squeegee window clean, I just can’t use any of my water-supplied tools,” said Robertson, who needs to re-schedule more than 100 customers.

Stage 4 restrictions are aimed at reducing the overall impact to the district’s water system, CAO Russell Dyson said, noting exemptions in the bylaw exist to allow the district to continue with essential use of water during the emergency pipe repair.

“Businesses that do not use water for essential services — food prep, drinking, hygiene, or for health and safety reasons — must comply with these restrictions,” Dyson said.

In a Facebook post, Angela Gilbert takes issue with the seemingly “arbitrary nature of which small businesses and individuals will suffer serious financial impact.”

She says the pipe has been broken since December, but she only found out Monday, April 8 that she could not run her dog grooming business because it’s not an essential service. Hairdressers, she added, found out Tuesday they can only use water for washing, not for colouring or for bleaching.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, who chairs the CVRD water committee, said the pipe repair would have been completed by now, but the plant undertaking the manufacturing had suffered a tragedy.

Robertson understands the need to conserve water, but does not understand how a window cleaning company can be singled out as a culprit in the overuse of water. He claims restaurants, on average, use 6,000 gallons of water a day (based on a Google search) but are allowed to operate during the restrictions. He said his seven-person operation tends to use about 960 gallons.

“If a restaurant’s allowed to use six times the amount of water that I use in a day, why are they allowed (to operate as normal)?” Robertson said. “I’m not saying they should shut them down, I’m just saying allow me to work as well.”

Wells said the impact to businesses was the largest part of the committee’s discussion last week regarding the emergency restrictions.

“It was a fulsome discussion that weighed the impact to companies versus having proper water levels to fight fires, and was not taken lightly by any of the directors,” Wells said. “I certainly get his (Robertson) point. We’re not trying to have a massive impact — in fact, we’re trying to have the least amount of impact as possible — but at the end of the day, I don’t know how far into the weeds we can get, evaluating every type of business.

“It’s one business week to say, ‘Let’s pull together as a community and conserve water’,” Wells added. “That backup pipe just isn’t able to provide enough water for what is general use, plus maintaining that fire flow.”

“We are very pleased with the response of businesses so far in the community – most of whom acknowledge this is an emergency situation and intend to set a good example,” Dyson added. “We are hopeful that all residents and affected businesses will support each other in implementing these emergency measures as a community, in order to ensure that enough water remains in the system for essential use including fire protection.”

CVRD manager of external relations, Christianne Wile, said the district has been reaching out to affected companies in an effort to explain the situation.

“We have hired a business outreach co-ordinator who has been answering questions from businesses, as well as reaching out to a number of businesses directly that require significant daily use of water,” said Wile. “While we do not have the capacity to reach out to all businesses that require water, we have been in contact with nearly 200 businesses, and this has helped a large number of them prepare in advance – some have purchased storage tanks, are using collected rainwater for the duration of the repair, or are adjusting appointments to work around the restrictions.

“This is the first time we have ever been in Stage 4, so it’s natural that businesses would have questions.”

Businesses can call 250-334-6006 to speak to the outreach co-ordinator.

The following circumstances are other exceptions to Stage 4 restrictions:

• Local government watermain and hydrant maintenance is permitted, but only for unscheduled safety or public health reasons.

• Water use is permitted for farm and agricultural operations, but only for livestock drinking purposes.

• Cleaning outdoor surfaces is only authorized when required by law to comply with health or safety regulations, or to comply with an order of a regulatory authority having jurisdiction, such as WorkSafeBC or a public health inspector.

• Spot cleaning of vehicles and boats with a sponge and bucket for health and safety reasons (windows, lights, licence plates, etc.) is permitted.

• Irrigating local government all-weather playing fields is permitted.

The one exception to the Stage 4 water restrictions that has come under fire is the allowable irrigation of local government playing fields (i.e. soccer pitches).

Wile said there will be no such irrigating taking place during this emergency period.

“That is not happening – the municipalities have made a commitment that they will not be irrigating playing fields, and the school districts will not be irrigating playing fields either.”

All municipal irrigation will cease for the period of the Stage 4 restrictions.

Wile added that the municipalities have also agreed to suspend other non-emergency operational work, such as road sweeping, sewer flushing and hydrant maintenance.

The CVRD’s recreation facilities will remain open. The water in the pools and hot tubs are recirculated, and do not require draining and refilling.

The Recreation Department is doing its part for Stage 4 by conducting the following activities:

Aquatic Centre

* hosing of pool decks and other surfaces only when biohazards are present;

* posting signs to encourage shorter showers and turning off the shower while lathering;

* closing the steam room for the duration of the Stage 4 restrictions.

Sports Centre

* Arena 1 closed for the duration of the restrictions;

* Arena 2 open with limited ice times.

Exhibition Grounds

* No dust control on riding rings;

* No watering of fields.

–With files from Terry Farrell

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