Metro Vancouver businesses feel the pinch of drought (updated)

If you’re in the business of keeping things clean, stricter water restrictions are proving to be a challenge

Under new water restrictions in effect tomorrow, paying someone to wash your car is allowed. Having your house or driveway cleaned is not | Shutterstock

If you’re in the business of keeping things clean, stricter water restrictions are proving to be a challenge.

Under level two restrictions that have been in effect since July 3, companies like Men in Kilts have not been able to offer pressure washing. As the drought continues and water levels in the region’s reservoirs continue to drop, Metro Vancouver now says that level three restrictions will go into effect starting the afternoon of July 20.

Pressure washing for cleaning, and washing windows and building exteriors with a water-fed pole, are both prohibited, said Nicholas Brand, CEO of Men in Kilts.

Brand said his company is still offering services such as window washing by squeegee, gutter cleaning and pressure washing if it’s in preparation for painting.

But if the restrictions continue, or move into level four, the most stringent restrictions, the company may have to lay off summer students who are normally hired until the end of August. Brand has looked into trucking in water, but concluded it would be too expensive.

Other pressure washing companies are in the same boat, Brand said, and it’s difficult to predict how long the restrictions will continue. Summer is normally the busiest time of the year for pressure washers.

“They say September 30, we’ve got a lot of customers that we’ve scheduled work into October for them, but we’re giving them the heads up that we might not be able to do it in October,” Brand said. 

“If we have a long dry August and September, they’re not going to lift [the restrictions].”

Public and commercial water fountains and water parks not on a timer have already been shut off.

Under stage three, other restrictions that come into effect  include no lawn watering at all and no outdoor washing of cars or boats. Commercial car washes, however, are allowed to continue operating in stage three, but would have to shut down in stage four.

Given the challenges pressure washers are facing, Brand said that was frustrating.

“People are allowed to pay someone to keep your car clean, they’re not allowed to pay someone to keep their house clean,” he said.

“And painters are allowed to prep for painting with pressure washing. From our industry, and speaking to others in our industry, it’s frustrating that we’re that far down on the totem pole.”

Commercial car washes are allowed to keep operating because they recycle much of the water they use, said Darrell Mussatto, mayor of the City of North Vancouver and chair of Metro Vancouver's utilities committee.

The previous stage two restrictions did result in water usage dropping, but didn't have enough of an effect, Mussatto said. Metro Vancouver has now started using some of the high alpine lakes it has access to to refill the Capilano reservoir. As a backup, the regional district also has access to BC Hydro's Coquitlam reservoir, which is currently not being used to produce electricity because of the drought conditions. Metro Vancouver has budgeted $862,000 to pay for up to 68 billion litres from that water source.

If current water restrictions don’t have the desired conservation effect, and if no rain falls to refill reservoirs, Metro Vancouver would move into stage four, said Greg Valou, a communications officer for the regional district.

Under stage four restrictions, municipal outdoor pools are closed, all outdoor cleaning with water is prohibited and vegetable gardens and plants cannot be watered with treated drinking water.

The last time the region had level three water restrictions was during the summer of 2003. The region has never put in place stage four restrictions in response to a drought.