Vancouver City Council to look into reactivating public water fountains

Mar 25 2023, 1:57 am

Decorative water fountains across Vancouver have been dry and quiet since Fall 2021, when they were shut off by the municipal government for water conservation reasons.

More specifically, these are non-operating fountains found on City-owned property that do not recirculate and reuse the same supply of water. This is due to a relatively recent bylaw that mandates flow-through water features be turned off.

But next week, through a member motion, Vancouver City Council is expected to direct City staff to look into making some exceptions that allow for non-compliant fountains at significant public spaces to be reactivated.

City councillor Peter Meiszner told Daily Hive Urbanized in an interview the current strategy of keeping such fountains dormant is having a negative impact on the enjoyment of public spaces — that residents have been telling him they miss the water features.

He says the fountain on the Bute Street pedestrian walkway — located near the intersection of Bute and Haro streets — in the West End is a notable example. Many West End residents have been asking for this fountain to be reactivated to enhance the public plaza as a gathering and social space. He notes residents of the adjacent Haro Park Seniors Centre particularly enjoyed the water feature.

bute street pedestrian walkway fountain

The dormant fountain at the Bute Street pedestrian walkway in the West End. (Peter Meiszner/submitted)

Guided by the policy decisions of the previous makeups of City Council and the Vancouver Park Board, the municipal government’s original intent was to keep these non-compliant fountains turned off until retrofits are made to turn these water features into recirculating fountains.

But therein lies the problem. There is no apparent timeline and strategy to make such retrofits to the non-recirculating fountains. By Fall 2023, if the current shuttered approach continues throughout the spring and summer months, the fountains will be off for two whole years.

He suggests any retrofits of fountains should be done over the winter months, so that they can be enjoyed over the spring and summer.

“We need to balance environmental concerns with people’s mental health and well-being, while we wait for the plan to retrofit these fountains,” he said.

Meiszner’s motion would direct City staff to create bylaw exemptions for non-compliant fountains “until such time as the Park Board can reasonably repair and/or upgrade these water features to be recirculating water features,” according to the text of the motion. City staff would report back no later than late April 2023 on potential bylaw exemptions and/or exceptions for water fountain features in public parks, including additional recommendations for “balancing the health and wellness benefits of decorative water fountains against regional water conservation objectives during periods of extreme water shortages and emergencies.”

If there are severe drought conditions, as indicated by the regional district’s water use warnings, the fountains would be turned off, he adds.

As well, City staff would also ask Park Board staff to provide an update on their decorative water feature strategy.

queen elizabeth park duck pond july 2021 drought

Exceedingly low water levels at the popular duck pond at Queen Elizabeth Park in July 2021. (Daily Hive)

queen elizabeth park duck pond july 2021 drought

Exceedingly low water levels at the popular duck pond at Queen Elizabeth Park in July 2021. (Daily Hive)

In Spring 2022, then-Park Board commissioners John Coupar and Tricia Barker put forth a member motion seeking similar answers from Park Board staff on the strategy, timeline, and cost to refurbish non-compliant fountains in public spaces under the Park Board’s jurisdiction. They also sought a temporary exemption to keep major water features running in destination parks — such as Queen Elizabeth Park, South Memorial Park, Stanley Park, and VanDusen Botanical Gardens — until a plan is in place to ensure they are compliant with bylaws.

But a majority of the previous makeup of the Park Board decided to defer the consideration of the motion, until Park Board staff return with a report on “potable water conservation and the impact on park water features.” This report was expected for the first quarter of 2023.

Coupar and Barker’s previous motion suggested that key water features in public parks “have fallen into a state of disrepair and/or are non-functional,” including Queen Elizabeth Park’s plaza fountains and quarry garden’s waterfall and ponds, Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon’s Jubilee Fountain, Helmcken Park’s fountain, Barclay Heritage Square’s fountain, Davie Fountain (Beach Avenue near Pacific Street), South Memorial Park pond, VanDusen Botanical Gardens’ various water courses, Seaforth Peace Park’s fountain, Laurel Street’s land bridge, and Jericho Beach Park’s pond.

The iconic Jubilee Fountain in Lost Lagoon, in particular, has been off since well before the pandemic.

Park Board staff previously told Daily Hive Urbanized the restoration of the Jubilee Fountain is under review as part of a broader study on the ecological and environmental health of Lost Lagoon. They said Lost Lagoon faces issues such as water quality, sedimentation, invasive species, and contamination from urban storm water runoff, and suggested the “restoration to deal with these issues impact and are impacted by the function, location, and restoration of the fountain.”

Last year, the Park Board also saw some criticism for its major delay in reopening the popular splash park at Stanley Park’s Lumberman’s Arch for the summer season.

At the time, Park Board staff said the splash park’s use of chlorinated drinking water — the same water that comes from the tap — is problematic because it directly drains out into Burrard Inlet. They suggested it violates federal guidelines, as potable water can be toxic to fish in certain concentrations. The splash park reopened in the middle of July after a “temporary solution” was put in place.

Jubilee Fountain at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park

Jubilee Fountain at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. (Patrick Lundgren/Flickr)

Bloedel Conservatory Queen Elizabeth Park Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory and the plaza fountain atop Queen Elizabeth Park. (Shutterstock)

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