The Bow River is glacier-fed and, with melt rates increasing, water scarcity could be closer for Calgarians than we think
The Bow River is glacier fed and, with melt rates increasing, water scarcity could be closer for Calgarians than we think. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

May 15, 2023

Water-audit class project shocks students into pushing for change

UCalgary grad students recommend water-conservation education in policy brief to Calgary's mayor

When a class assignment made two graduate students realize how much water they used, they were inspired to take their concerns right to the top of City Hall in hopes of The City increasing water-conservation education efforts.

Carter Brust, BA’20, MA’22 (and currently taking a second master’s in strategic studies), and political science grad student Connor O’Reilly, BA’21, were both shocked by the amount of water they were using when an assignment for their Politics of Water class (POLI 502.SO3 and POLI 723-01 for grad students) had them track their water usage for one week using a water-audit form developed by The City of Calgary in 2001.

Connor O’Reilly

Connor O’Reilly is a political science grad student. When filing out the water audit form, he was shocked by the amount of water it took to water his lawn.

Connor O’Reilly

O’Reilly was particularly shocked by the amount of water he used to water his lawn in the summer months. “It takes 950 litres just to do a lawn for one hour, and just imagining 950 litres seems like quite a lot and you do it every, like, third day or something, so this is quite a big, water-intensive activity, so that was the big thing I noticed,” says O’Reilly.

Brust and O’Reilly wanted to take their findings a step further and decided to go straight to the mayor. The pair created a policy brief detailing how The City could better promote water-consumption awareness to residents. 

The recommendations in the policy brief included updating the current water-audit form to suit 2023 conditions and more widely using it as a tool to educate citizens about water consumption. They also suggested The City recommend Alberta’s Ministry of Education amend elementary and secondary curriculums to include age-appropriate water-literacy programs. 

Water is so plentiful in Alberta that students tend not to think about how much they use, says Politics of Water instructor Dr. Doreen Barrie, PhD. However, she warns, as Calgary’s main water supply, the Bow River, is glacier-fed and glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, water scarcity could become an issue for Calgarians much sooner than we think.

Carter Brust

Carter Brust is currently taking a second master’s in strategic studies. He hopes The City will help educate Calgarians about water conservation.

Carter Brust

Barrie says most of her students were inspired to pass along the water-conservation message after completing the assignment. “As they reflected on their consumption, they concluded that it would be useful to encourage others to track their water use, just to raise awareness about this precious resource,” she says. “Many of them had passed the [City’s water-audit] form on to family and friends and felt it would be a useful educational tool The City of Calgary could utilize.” 

Adds Brust: “We hope that The City will promote this and perhaps make it a little bit more accessible to people, whether they are students in K-12 or university students, or even just the general public, and promote it as an exercise that they can do and just see how much water they are using.” 

The students have yet to hear back from the mayor’s office; however, they are hoping that The City will follow their recommendations and Calgarians will become more aware of their water consumption.

“Most people were unaware of how much water they use — that’s an important first step,” says Brust. “If you don’t recognize the problem or if you don’t acknowledge that there’s a problem, you can’t actually take steps to address it.” 

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