So, one bit of information that we are clearly lacking is how much water an “average resident” consumes each year.  Our district considers “average residential consumption” to be less than 50 m3 per quarter.  But I believe that that number is inaccurate – and very low.

(I am sorry these posts are so long – it’s a lot of info, though, and I just want you guys to know why I am saying what I am saying – that I am not just making things up.)

I think their error comes in because of how they classify a  “residential” user.  We all know, in Tofino, that some fairly large percentage of homes here are not actually used as residences.  Many of them are vacation rentals (so probably slightly higher water usage than most residents over summer, because of hot tubs, rinsing of surfboards and wetsuits, many showers by frequent beachgoers, increased laundry and dishwasher use – but probably very low-occupancy or empty over winter, so extremely low water usage over those months).  And some of them are private vacation homes owned by people who live elsewhere, and are empty for much of the year (e.g. many of the houses and condos fronting on Chestermans Beach).

For some reason, our district has never undertaken any study to determine just how many “homes” are actually occupied by real residents.  However, we can at least get some idea by going through StatsCan Census data.  Here are a few figures from the last 3 available surveys, going back over a decade, along with a bit of analysis:

Tofino                                   1996        2001        2006
1. population                            1170        1466        1655
2. # of dwellings                        440            721          941
3. # dwellings “occupied by usual residents”                 680
4. % <15 years old                     19.7        16.0           15.7

1. Population
In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006 our population has increased from 1170 to 1655 – an increase of 41%.

2. Number of dwellings
In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006 the number of dwellings (houses, condos, etc.) has increased from 440 to 941 – an increase of 114%, i.e. more than doubled.
That means that in 1996 there were and average of 2.7 people per home here, but in 2006 there were only 1.8 people per home.
If we make the two following assumptions:
1. that all of the homes in 1996 were occupied by residents (which is probably not 100% true, but close), and
2. that the average number of people actually living in a home is the same in 2006 as it was in 1996, i.e. 2.7 people per home, that would give us an estimate of 613 homes occupied by residents in 2006 (1655 people divided by 2.7 per home = 613)
This estimate is probably slightly on the low side because of Assumption#1.

3.  Number of dwellings “occupied by usual residents”
They only started collecting this stat in 2006.  So, in Tofino in 2006, 680 of the 941 dwellings were occupied by the “usual residents” –  this fits very well with my estimate calculated above, of slightly over 613, and suggests that my assumptions were not too far off.
So, in 2006, 261 homes were not occupied by the “usual residents” (941 – 680 = 261).  That is 28% of “residences” that are not occupied by residents – i.e. are vacation rentals or mostly empty private vacation homes.  (And this is why I say that the district’s water usage calculations are skewed – because many of the homes they include in their calculation are not actually occupied by residents).

4.  Percentage of population under 15 years
This is not related to the water issue – but it is a concern, as it shows how our community is changing.  Many of us know of young families with children who have left the community in recent years, largely because they cannot afford to live here – and also that this declining enrolment has an effect on our school in terms of funding and what resources and extra-curricular activities it can provide.  It also has an effect on other community services, such as our hospital.
In the ten years from 1996, the proportion of children under the age of 15 in our population dropped from 19.7 to 15.7 per cent.  That might not sound like a lot – but it is actually a drop of 20%, a very disturbing reflection of what is happening to our community.

OK, now back to estimates of average water consumption.

So our district estimates that average quarterly residential water consumption is less than 50m3 per household.  I would argue that estimate is too low, for three reasons:

1.  As stated in my point 2, above, around 28% of homes classed as “residences” are not actually occupied by residents.  Many of these homes would be empty or very low occupancy over the winter, and a few of them (the private vacation homes) would even be empty for much of the entire year.  So the very low annual water usage of these homes would skew the average, the way the district calculates it, and lead them to come up with a number that is too low.

2.  Looking at the home I used to own on Howard Drive, with occupancy similar to that of what a family would have (usually a total of 4 or 5 occupants in the home year-round; in this case divided into an upstairs and a downstairs suite), our total water consumption over winter was around 50 m3 per quarter, and over summer around 80 m3 per quarter – so, year-round, something like 65 m3.

You can look at your own water bills to see what your own household’s quarterly usage is – there is a convenient graph on the left side that summarizes the previous year.  I’d be curious to have other people Comment on this post (just click on Leave a Comment, at the top) and say what your winter/summer use is and how many people live in your home – just so we can all get an idea of what “average” or “typical” is.

3.  Looking at figures in other places, quarterly, I find:
Nanaimo: 64 m3
Port Alberni: 73 m3
Canada-wide: 59 m3
(Where did I get these numbers?  The Nanaimo district website lists the Canadian average household consumption as 646 l/d, and the Nanaimo average, estimated at 700 l/d.  The Port Alberni water rates page notes that the average residential consumer uses 800 l/d.  To calculate quarterly usage I multiplied the daily use by 90 days, then divided by 1000 to convert litres to m3, cubic metres).
So, comparing with average residential consumption in other areas, it seems that Tofino’s guesstimate of under 50 m3 is low.

CONCLUSION: We don’t yet know what the water consumption of an average resident it – and we won’t until we get a handle on how many homes are actually occupied by residents, and then re-do the district’s classification system accordingly.

But, for now, it seems pretty clear from many lines of evidence that the district’s figure of <50 m3 is inaccurate, and too low.