Water conservation

The sustainability of water supplies is becoming a significant issue for many municipalities. In some areas, demand for water is already exceeding supply, supplies are not as reliable as they once were, and new sources of water are not readily available. Even in communities where water is more plentiful, increasing demand for water is requiring the construction of new and expensive infrastructure in order to provide residents and customers with a safe, secure and reliable water supply.

Growing appreciation of the limited availability of water supplies, increasing concern about the potential impacts of the changing climate, acknowledgement of the importance of keeping water in the natural environment, and recognition of the escalating cost of treating, pumping, storing and delivering ever-increasing volumes of water to consumers are driving a movement to better manage the demand and use of water at a municipal level. The adoption of water conservation tools and practices is one of the most effective means of managing demand within existing available supplies and contributing to long-term municipal sustainability.

Municipal tools and practices for water conservation

Municipalities have access to a wide range of tools and practices that can assist in managing water demand and ensure long-term municipal sustainability. The following resource guide includes examples and tools that you can select from and adapt depending on the needs of your municipality.

As water supply and demand can vary from municipality to municipality, the approach each municipality takes to conservation will also be unique. Therefore, we recommend ensuring you develop an understanding of how water is used, when it is used, and how much is being lost in your community. We have included tools below such as conducting a water audit to help know your system. Once you have a solid conception of your water system’s strengths and weaknesses, you can employ other tools ranging from leak detection and control to water use bylaws, to conservation-friendly water pricing.

Choose one of the accordions below to learn more about the different tools and practices you can implement:

After getting a firm grasp on water use in your community, a good next step is to look at how water is administered and delivered. Changes to water operations and management can often have the greatest impact on improving water conservation. Included below are several initiatives that your municipality may want to implement:

Water Audits

A vital first step to conserving water in your community is to collect data on the state of your current system. Given the wide range of conservation options available to municipalities, it is important to understand how water is used and what parts of your system need improvement before investing time and financial resources in implementing other initiatives.

A great method of getting the full, detailed picture of water use in your community is a water audit. Water audits assess real versus apparent losses, deliver a detailed water management sustainability plan, and provide system performance indicators.


Water Audit Case Studies – The Alliance for Water Efficiency provides case studies from agencies that have taken a leading role in implementing utility water loss reduction programs.

Loss Control Programs

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the amount of unaccounted water can vary from less than 10 percent in new, well-managed systems to more than 50 percent in older systems suffering from poor maintenance. Environment Canada estimates that an average of 13 percent of municipal water is unaccounted for. Performing a water audit will pinpoint where your municipality is losing water and how much you are losing. Once you have that information established, loss control programs can be instituted to remedy leaks.

A variety of actions, such as annual leak surveys and replacement of aging water infrastructure, can result in a significant reduction of water losses.


According to a 2009 survey, Canadian households with meters on volume-based water pricing schemes used 73% less water than unmetered households on flat-rate water pricing schemes. The use of accurate meters allows utilities to closely monitor water within their system and quickly identify breaks/leaks and have them repaired, resulting in a reduction of lost resources and promoting a more sustainable system (Environment Canada, 2011) Metering allows consumption-based billing, which provides a strong incentive for water efficiency and helps the municipality recover costs, especially when combined with full cost pricing.

See the Planning and Funding section for more information on full-cost pricing.

The City of Edmonton has been metered since 1903. EPCOR has an ongoing Meter Maintenance Program to ensure reliability of approximately 239,000 water meters. More than 90% of the meters can be read remotely which increases the efficiency of meter data collection, as well as the convenience for customers. Retail complexes are often sub-metered so each business can be charged for its actual consumption. This encourages conservation of water. EPCOR has also created an online resource that explains water metering to customers, including lessons on meter reader safety, instructions on reading meters, and other general information about the technology.

Water, Conservation, Efficiency and Productivity Plan

Alberta’s Water for Life strategy support the use of Conservation, Efficiency and Productivity (CEP) Plans to improve water efficiency and productivity. Municipal CEP planning helps communities assess their current water use, its impact on aquatic environments and municipal infrastructure, and identify opportunities to provide for a more sustainable water future. CEP plans generally include a water use profile for the community, a target for future use, a summary of CEP efforts to date, and evaluation of proposed actions, an action plan, and a monitoring and evaluation plan.

While drafting a CEP plan is not strictly necessary to implement any of the other tools on this site, they can be valuable to help structure your efforts towards improving water conservation, efficiency and productivity. More information on CEP plans can be found here.

Water Recovery, Reclamation, Reuse and Recycling

According to the Polis Project for Ecological Governance, more than two thirds of municipal water use does not require drinking quality water. Reusing or recycling water for uses like flushing toilets, outdoor irrigation, or industrial use can provide savings of up to 50 percent of water use. Even more significant savings can be achieved with system-wide reuse programs.

There are many examples of how municipalities in Alberta have undertaken action to reduce their water use footprint. The City of Calgary Fire Department’s training program utilizes water from man-made wetlands. Afterwards, the water is recaptured, treated, and then reused again. Strathcona County has launched an app for seasonal work crews that allows them to easily update information and perform better water management for spring checks, valves, hydrant painting, and fall checks. This GIS technology results in more efficient work crews, less waste, less water flowing, and less duplication of already completed work.

The Government of Alberta provides guidelines and regulatory requirements on rainwater harvesting and reclaimed wastewater here.


After maximizing your water operations and management and establishing legal tools, you may wish to employ economic and financial tools to help conserve more. Where legal tools directly restrict water usage and require people to conserve water, economic and financial tools incent them to conserve water. Some of these tools can be implemented in a way that helps the municipality conserve financial resources along with water.

Water & wastewater rate review:

A rate review is comprised of reviewing current and future costs associated with the provision of water and wastewater utility services. The benefits of a review are numerous: they provide a better understanding of the real cost of service delivery that facilitates better decision making, information to better explain costs to rate payers, cost breakdowns for users outside the municipality. Visit the section page on Full Cost Accounting of municipal water supply systems to learn more about how to do this.

Conservation pricing and rebates:

Economic and financial tools come in two major forms: conservation pricing and rebates.

Conservation pricing involves setting the cost of water in a way that incents users to use less. For instance, some municipalities scale the cost of water to how much the consumer is using: the more they use, the higher their rate is. Conservation pricing can also help the municipality recover more of the costs of providing water, assisting in full cost accounting while still giving consumers the option to save money by using less. These actions are not restricted to large municipalities, in 2009 the Village of Mannville replaced or installed radio frequency (RF) water meters with data log capabilities in all residential, institutional and commercial buildings and began charging consumption fees at a rate of $1.50 per cubic meter on deep well water.

Rebates, on the other hand, provide a direct incentive to implement more efficient technology. These are especially helpful with technology like water-efficient fixtures. The large majority of people who renovate their homes or businesses already install these fixtures, so bylaws requiring them no longer have much of an effect. However, the people who don’t renovate or build new structures may still have old, wasteful structures. Rebates make renovations more attractive to these home and business owners by lowering the cost of installing new fixtures. Numerous Alberta municipalities have instituted rebates on the purchase of low-flow toilets. Rebates can also incentivize consumers to adopt technologies like rain collection barrels or use water-conserving landscaping elements like mulch ground cover. Some centres have extended these rebates to businesses as well as residents.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has funding available through the Green Municipal Fund for projects that target end-use water consumption.

Education and outreach initiatives that inform water users about water conservation programs are needed for a successful program. Even mandatory programs such as watering restrictions are rarely successful without promotion and outreach. The most effective education programs will increase public knowledge about the need for water conservation and the potential benefits of demand management. In addition, these programs should provide information to individuals on how to participate in local conservation initiatives.

A good water education and outreach program should:

  • Instill conservation habits in water users
  • Heighten public awareness of the need to conserve water to the point where other initiatives, such as volume-based pricing and regulation, become acceptable and can be implemented
  • Continue awareness through regular public reminders of the need for conservation
  • Change values towards a lasting ‘water ethic’

Examples of outreach include providing information on municipal websites or advertising in local media, sending staff or volunteers to community events or into local schools as outreach, or sending mailouts to local businesses. The City of Brooks has taken a multi-faceted approach to water conservation outreach which includes:

  • Water Wise Plant Tag Program - to educate and encourage residents to purchase plants that aid in water conservation. Any plant that is native to the Brooks area, or requires little watering, will be marked with a special tag.
  • Water Use Scorecard - The City provides residents with the opportunity to assess where and how they use water and their water use efficiency with a Water Use Scorecard. Citizens can then check out the City’s brochure, 100 Ways to Conserve Water, for ideas on how to improve their score.
  • Yellowfish Road Program - The City’s Environmental Advisory Committee has partnered with Trout Unlimited Canada to bring the Yellowfish Road Program to Brooks. A variety of youth groups are encouraged to sign out painting kits and paint yellow fish on the storm drains throughout Brooks to remind residents of where the water and items that get washed down the storm drains end up.
  • Xeriscaping - The City’s Environmental Advisory Committee and Parks Services Department recently partnered with local Girl Guides to design and plant two flower beds in a City Park with natural and water wise plants. The Xeriscaping Demo Bed is in a highly visible area and residents are encouraged to look at the bed to understand how easy xeriscaping can be, and how much water we can be saved.