June 17, 2019

Making every drop of water count: the story behind Tofino’s drinking water

In 1984, Chief Moses Martin stood on the shore of Meares Island and uttered words that would affect Tofino’s drinking water for years to come. “You’re welcome to come and visit us in our lands, but we ask you to leave your chainsaws in your boat.”

Martin was addressing the monolithic forestry company MacMillan Bloedel, which was set to log a significant portion of the 21,000-acre island, home to Western Red cedar, Western hemlock, Douglas fir and Lodgepole pine.  The resistance gained widespread support, and became known as “the War in the Woods”. As a result, Meares Island was not clear-cut and became a designated Tribal Park. It is here that Tofino’s drinking water is sourced from reservoirs that receive an abundance of rainwater filtered through the surrounding watershed.

What makes our water so good?  The water system is fed by four streams: Close Creek, Sharp Creek, No.1 Creek, and Ginnard Creek. These streams fill reservoirs and holding tanks until the water is directed into submerged pipes that run from Meares Island to Tofino.  What makes our water system so remarkable is that these creeks are bordered by the ancient trees that were protected in 1984. Old growth forests purify water; trees serve as natural sponges, collecting and filtering rainfall and releasing it slowly into streams and rivers. Forest cover has been directly linked to a reduction in drinking water treatment costs:  the more forest in a source watershed, the lower the cost to treat that water. The chlorine level in our municipal water is the lowest it needs to be at 0.2 parts per million (ppm).

Despite the abundance of rain the Tofino area gets, the summer months bring sunnier days and less precipitation.  Always a valuable resource, Tofino’s water becomes even more precious resource from June to September.

Tofino’s community is consistently making changes to support sustainable tourism, including the careful use and conservation of water. A number of restaurants here use rainwater capture systems for their gardens and bathrooms. Many guest accommodations provide reusable water bottles and take great steps to educate visitors about water conservation. As Tofino residents and visitors, we are all in this together. The more educated we become about the quality of our drinking water, the less plastic pollution we create. The more we engage in mindful water use, the less strain we put on our ecosystem.   And, as the local water conservation campaign clearly illustrates, we Make Every Drop of Water Count.

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