Summer water restrictions in the Vancouver area will start two weeks earlier this year and end two weeks later as a way to be better prepared in case last year's drought conditions return.
Metro Vancouver, which includes more than 20 communities in the region, says water restrictions will be in place from May 15 until Oct. 15, rather than June 1 to Sept. 30 in previous years.
It is the first time Metro Vancouver has extended the dates of water restrictions in the past decade.
"Last summer, we had no rain from May to August," said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver's utilities committee, who is also the mayor of North Vancouver.
"If that happens again this year, we want to make sure we will have enough water in the reservoirs until November."
Last year was the driest summer on record for Metro Vancouver, which depleted reservoirs and prompted the regional district and several communities across British Columbia to restrict water use for months.
The regional district routinely imposes its lowest level of water restriction – Stage 1 – every year beginning in the late spring. At Stage 1, residents can water their lawns only three times a week, and non-residential lawn sprinkling is limited to twice a week. Cars and boats can washed only with a spring-loaded shut-off nozzle.
Last year, Metro Vancouver imposed Stage 3 restrictions, which prohibit almost all outdoor uses of water except for watering flower and vegetable gardens by hand. Other cities, such as Nanaimo, went to Stage 4 restrictions, the most severe, which ban hand watering.
"We should have done this much earlier," said Hans Schreier, a watershed management professor at the University of British Columbia.
"There is no need to water all the lawns when all it takes is some good rain then everything will be green."
Dr. Schreier said restricting outdoor water use is the least harmful way to reduce the risk of a water shortage during a drought.
He said it is time to face the new reality of climate change.
"It's not a seasonal thing. We see more floods and droughts all over the world. We need to adapt to the new reality that climate conditions are more variable now. We cannot predict when we are going to have a drought and how long it will last, so the best way is to start preventing it."
Water consumption in Metro Vancouver is about 350 litres per person a day. In Europe, the average is about 150 litres.
Dr. Schreier thinks the new water-restriction plan will not only change residents' consumption habits, but also raise public awareness about saving water.
"If we are at the stage to have enough water, we need to manage it better."
Last year, the level of the region's main reservoir fell as low as 60 per cent, although it is back up to 100 per cent.
Mr. Mussatto said Metro Vancouver is not currently at risk of running out of water, but the added restrictions are a precaution.
This winter, snowpack on the mountains has been relatively high, which may create more meltwater run-off to fill reservoirs when spring arrives.
"We still have a long way to go," Mr. Mussatto said. "Hopefully, it will continue and the snow will not be washed away."
Metro Vancouver is still consulting the public on water restrictions and trying to minimize the negative impact, particularly on industries such as pressure-washing and window cleaning that rely on water. More changes are expected in the spring.