Charlottetown credits three-pronged strategy for reducing water use

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Charlottetown city skyline
Charlottetown officials say their water metering program is almost the equivalent of bringing in another wellfield to expand water capacity, and combined with new summer watering restrictions, has more than flattened the water demand curve, reducing consumption by 13% through all water conservation measures. Photo credit: dbvirago, stock.adobe.com

Charlottetown’s water and sewer utility manager says a combination of public education, low-flow fixtures and water metering led to a drop in water consumption that began around 2012, in spite of a growing population for the Prince Edward Island capital.  

When Richard MacEwan joined city staff in late 2011, there was concern that the water supply was inadequate for the population of some 36,000, and that a new wellfield would be necessary to provide a cushion if there was to be growth beyond the 7.5% that occurred in the years to follow.  

MacEwan’s first summer with the city was the driest in a decade. The public began to take note of stream levels dropping — and even running dry — due to low precipitation. Water use restrictions kicked in during the fall, and bolstered the outreach efforts of watershed conservation groups. 

“There was a push to be conscientious,” says MacEwan.  

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water use
Graphic: Charlottetown 2022 Water Report, City of Charlottetown Water and Sewer Utility

As Charlottetown’s water consumption began to drop, other factors came into play that made conservation even easier. Charlottetown officials collaborated with the provincial government for the creation of low-flow water fixture regulations in 2014. New toilets, in particular, were suddenly using half as much water. 

One of the last pieces of the puzzle was when Charlottetown began rolling out a water meter program in 2015 under the banner of “Take Control”. Flat rates were now a thing of the past as residents seemed interested in taking control of their water bills, some of which dropped more than 20%. 

Charlottetown
Charlottetown’s water and sewer utility manager, Richard MacEwan. Credit: ACWWA

By 2015, Charlottetown began to stabilize its annual water consumption at around 6 million m3, where it continues to hover heading into 2024. 

“I was always hesitant to say, ‘okay, we are actually going down’, because the next year it could jump back up on me, and then I’m in trouble,” says MacEwan. 

While consumption dropped, it certainly wasn’t due to the quality of Charlottetown’s drinking water. In late 2023, the municipality won “Best of the Best” in the Tap Water Taste Test Regional Competition at the Atlantic Canada Water and Wastewater Association’s Annual Conference. 

“It’s something I’ve had my eyes on for decades,” says MacEwan. “We’re very hopeful heading out to California,” he adds, referring to the 2024 American Water Works Associations’ ACE Conference in Anaheim, California, which has the next round of taste tests in the spring. 

Charlottetown’s water is extracted from 13 wells in three wellfields. In 2018, the utility completed the Miltonvale Wellfield. The utility has four water pumping stations that consist of 18 submersible pumps. Some of the water infrastructure that was installed in 1888 is still in existence. 

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