Today I wrote a letter to council about their proposed water meters bylaw. I don’t take this step lightly, Councillors should know that if someone writes them a letter, they’ve thought long and hard about not writing it first.
To the Councillors and Mayor of the City of Castlegar
Re: Proposed Water Meter Bylaw
The City of Castlegar has disregarded points raised in public forums, petitions and letters and rather than answering these questions and comments in an intelligent manner, (after all, the city is the one who started the conversation by holding a public forum), it appears that residents are left feeling frustrated and ignored as the city plows ahead with it’s decision to implement a water meters bylaw.
I am a Civil Engineer with seven years experience in the design of municipal and land development design and construction, and have worked with some of the leading experts in water management and water metering in Australia. A decision to change the infrastructure funding program and method of billing cannot be taken lightly. The current fixed fee, adjusted annually water funding program, works well in a community of this size, particularly with a readily available water supply. The research conducted by city staff made some serious assumptions about the availability of water, and about the cost of maintaining the infrastructure that is currently within the city.
I read some quotes in the Castlegar News a couple of weeks back that were disturbing:
With the misconception that there is a lot of water and is a resource that some people believe will never run out, Councillor Deb McIntosh says that “As long as there?s a river going through Castlegar, they’re never going to believe that there’s a water shortage.”
“We actually receive less money from it, and I think the meter system will save people some money, and some water,” said Councillor Gordon Turner. “It’s a move we have to make.”
Please consider the following questions:
- Where is the data supporting the statement that there is a water shortage? This is a big claim when no studies were presented at the public forum to determine the lifespan of the current system, the actual capacity of the network, or the volume of water actually available to the city. The hydro companies don’t seem to think there is a shortage of water, with what I’d assume to be one of the most reliable river networks in North America on our doorstep, it’s difficult to back this statement up with facts.
- Why should the city make less money for it’s water fund? The need for maintenance of infrastructure remains. If anything, water infrastructure costs to the city are going to increase, due to aging infrastructure and the need to install a UV treatment plant. Why even contemplate a move that will result in less income for the city for any period of time?
- How will necessary increases in water rates be divided among metered and unmetered properties. Who can we go to if there is perceived inequity?
- What is the true cost of supplying water to each residence in Castlegar? What percentage of that cost is actually related to the volume of water supplied?
- If the city continues to grow, what measures will be in place to ensure that there is equitable division of funding for required upgrades? (Considering that the city has stated in the public forum that the current system is at capacity). Is it at capaicty? If it is, the city should be partly responsible for ensuring that there is adequate reserve capacity in the system, not just developers.
- Why was the petition for referendum ignored by council? My wife and I were not even approached to sign it, yet had we been, we would have willingly.
- Would the city pursue this if there were no funding from the province available? Just because someone offers you money, doesn’t mean that you have to take it.
The money that the city was going to spend on water meters, both instalation and management costs could be used to fund other, less expensive demand management strategies.
Offering a rebate on water saving shower heads, toilets, faucet aerators etc.
Installing gray water and roof runoff recycling in the new city hall.
Teaming with local hardware stores to offer discounts on water saving items.
Put it towards the cost of the UV treatment system.
I ask these questions as an Engineer and tax-paying citizen of Castlegar who wants to ensure the long term viability of municipal systems implemented. If the objective is to delay future upgrades to the water network, I’d like to see a Net Present Value Analysis to show me why we should restrict water consumption, have the city pay for water meters now, hence delaying upgrades that are inevitable. The neat thing about the Net Present Value analysis is that it shows there is no time like the present to either start saving for capital works in the future, or just bite the bullet and do it now.
This letter is available to the public and media on my website, urbanworkbench.com. Thank you for your time,
We often hear : ? Water meters would have the benefit of making us conscious of the cost of water and therefore of its value ?… and that it would pay to conserve.
That is not the case. When similar households are compared, there is no difference in water consumption, whether there is a meter or not. This is what a few quasi-experimental studies have shown that focused on the specific impact of water meters, when other factors that might influence the behaviour are controlled (Collin et al., 1999 : 28-29).
Environmental groups that have looked seriously at the subject have come to the same conclusion (like the S.O.S. Water Coalition, 2005 or the Conseil r?gional de l?environnement de Montr?al : Porlier, 1999). This is also what the administration of the city of Sherbrooke have realized ; following a merger, some districts were equipped with residential water meters, and others not; it turned out the consumption is quite the same in similar districts, water meters or not.
It is partly explained by the fact that water is cheap.
It is generally estimated that the ? real ? cost of water in Montreal is approximately 50 cents per cubic meter, or .05 cent per liter. Based on a daily consumption of 250 liters per person, the average daily cost for a Montrealer would be 12 or 13 cents (or about $45 per person per year). If we presume that the only thing that matters to people is their personal interest, how can we hope to convince them to save water with such low costs? We would try to convince people to change their behaviour to reduce consumption by say, 20% – a meaningful reduction ? and in return, we would promise them savings of 2.5 cents per day ($9 per year).
- Did you sign the petition?
- Do you want a water meter?
- Do you think it’s a bad idea?
Let us know in the comments, or send me an email.