Fraser Basin Council


5.1 Water Conservation Plans

Water conservation planning is receiving more and more attention in BC. There is a growing appreciation of the limited availability of water supplies, and an increasing concern about the impacts of climate change on water supply and demand. Water conservation is one of the best mechanisms to manage water demand within existing supplies, and avoid the cost of developing additional supplies. Rainwater harvesting, leak detection and repairs, and greywater recycling are just a few water conservation strategies that can reap significant benefits for communities. Conservation is particularly important in areas that are experiencing population growth, economic development and other changes that lead to increased demand for water. Water conservation is important in areas where there may be a reduced water supply in the future as a result of climate change.

Characteristics, Benefits and Applications

Water conservation plans focus on managing water demand, reducing consumption, and improving efficiency of water use. These plans extend beyond household water savings to include industrial, commercial, institutional and agricultural water users. The plans, are relevant to both surface and groundwater sources.

Water conservation plans can help communities manage the impacts of water shortages that are less severe than drought conditions. These plans can also deliver benefits to communities that are not presently experiencing water shortages. Through conservation, water suppliers can reduce the costs associated with developing new water supplies, drinking water treatment, drinking water distribution, wastewater treatment and associated pumping and energy costs.

Local governments in BC are now required to have water conservation plans to be eligible for provincial capital grant funding for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Water conservation plans are typically developed at the geographic scale of a community or region. It is important to consider all water users (residential, agricultural, industrial), all water supplies (surface and groundwater) and how these users and supplies interact with, and affect, each other. Therefore, the use of a holistic approach or “watershed eye-view” to water conservation planning is beneficial. This translates into considering entire watersheds in the decision-making process, and integrating all aspects of water management into the plan.i


Key Elements and Steps

The following are some of the key elements and steps in preparing a Water Conservation Plan:

  • developing a comprehensive community water use profile that outlines the amounts of water used by different sectors (such as household, industrial, agricultural, municipal and other use);
  • forecasting future water supplies and demands;
  • developing a future vision of water use and supply for the community;
  • quantifying and understanding the impacts of different water conservation measures; and,
  • integrating the Water Conservation Plan with other plans (e.g., Regional Growth Strategies, Official Community Plans, land use plans, transportation plans, Integrated Community Sustainability Plans and watershed plans).

The POLIS Project on Ecological Governance is a BC-based organization that has undertaken significant research on water issues and has recently published a guide on water conservation planning.

POLIS characterizes a strong water conservation plan as having:

  • at least a 20–50 year time frame;
  • a comprehensive and thoughtful rationale for water conservation;
  • an integrated approach to water conservation, which is linked to other plans such as wastewater, land use, and asset management plans; and
  • an effective implementation strategy.

POLIS characterizes an excellent water conservation plan, as one that goes further to:

  • place ecological health at its core;
  • be tailored to a community’s watershed context and consider the community’s impact on the watershed;
  • blend innovative legal tools such as water restrictions and land use planning bylaws with practical measures such as rebate and metering programs;
  • make managing demand a part of daily business rather than a stop-gap measure designed merely to buy time needed to increase supply;
  • build in measures that are geared towards rainwater capture and wastewater reclamation, reuse and recycling to better match water quality to end uses;
  • implement outreach and education programs that go beyond information dissemination to engage and inspire citizens to permanently change behaviour; and,
  • use a “triple bottom line” approach to valuing water.2

While it may not be possible or practical in all cases for communities to achieve these characteristics, it is important to consider them during the development and implementation of water conservation plans to ensure the plans are effective, comprehensive and successfully implemented.

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About Rethinking our Water Ways

This website is a guide to help BC communities learn more about planning for local watersheds and water resources, navigate current planning processes, consider relevant issues and challenges — including regional climate change impacts —  and build capacity to develop and implement plans.


The Rethinking our Water Ways guide and website are possible thanks to funding support from the BC Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Canada's Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program. The guide and website were launched and distributed through a series of regional workshops throughout BC, with funding contributions from the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program, Environment Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. Learn more about our funders and advisors.

We want to hear from you

Share your suggestions for this website, and ideas for future water workshops, with:

Steve Litke
Senior Program Manager
T: 604 488-5358

About the Fraser Basin Council

Rethinking our Water Ways is an initiative of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a charitable non-profit society that advances sustainability in the Fraser River Basin, across BC, and beyond. Established in 1997, FBC brings people together from multiple sectors to learn about sustainability and find collaborative solutions to current issues. Learn more about FBC by visiting