Does Castlegar need Water Metering?
That is the question posed today in the public forum. Members of the public were given the opportunity to raise their questions to the technical staff of the city. Chris Barlow gave an excellent presentation on the current thinking of the city on the proposed metering of all residential properties in Castlegar.
Chris started his presentation with the statement that metering would be voluntary, and citizens would have the opportunity to join the scheme at a rate of 500 homes a year, with the full community metered in 6-8 years.
Hopefully none of the installations look like this!
From the presentation:
Conservation. Castlegar has an excellent clean source of water with the Arrow Lakes in the Columbia River system. It seems that most years there is an excess of water even with the amount that flows down to the states. Summer usage is approximately 4 times that of mid winter. Meters are a good incentive for users to reduce their water consumption, particularly if the pricing structure is appropriately scaled. Conservation of water is a good thing, consumers should be aiming to reduce their water consumption to the optimal level, this is different for an elderly couple who use the dishwasher and washing machine once a week, to a family of six with young kids who need clothes and dishes washed daily. Water is not scarce here, water restrictions are more to encourage reasonable, sensible use of the supply during the summer months, rather than for genuine conservation reasons.
Equality. Some users were using over 10 times the volume of water than the lowest water users. The argument that all other commodities, i.e. gas and electricity were on a per consumption basis was given. This is a commonly posed argument, generally power and gas companies have shareholders and are expected to turn an annual profit, the needs of the consumer are pretty low down on the priority list when there’s a monopoly and money to be made.
System Performance. This is Chris’ baby, he states that the City’s water network is reaching it’s capacity on the Maximum Day Demand, which determines the size of the system. There is a benefit with being able to detect leaks in the system, and a small benefit in having less maintenance on pumps and pipe lines. Overall though, as long as the system can meet fire flow requirements at the maximum day demand, there is no significant cost to the city when usage increases.
Regulatory Compliance. I don’t understand why this is included in this presentation. Sounds like the requirement to add a UV treatment plant is a provincial requirement that has to happen regardless of consumption. The revenue from a network with water meters should be no greater or less than without.
Long Term Financial Implications. If the current trends of consumption continue, then upgrades of the system become necessary. A figure of $500,000 to $1,000,000 replacement cost per kilometer of pipe was quoted, then a point was made that if the city can defer or eliminate the replacement of pipes, this would be great. Now if they think that they are not going to have to replace a pipe, they should probably have a think about auditing the current network, identify aging pipes and lines likely requiring upgrading, then seeing how much they should be putting aside each year for maintenance, cause that cost doesn’t decrease.
The Proposed Program
The current proposal suggests that a new bylaw be created with a new rate structure for customers with meters. At a rate of 500 meters a year, “volunteers” would be accepted into the program, home-owners can purchase an acceptable meter and MXU (radio data transmitting) device and have it installed by a plumber, or by themselves. 75% of the capital cost of the meter will be reimbursed once it is proved to be installed in accordance with the city and manufacturers requirements. The proposed starting rate would be a fixed monthly charge of $5 and a charge of $0.32 per kL. Usage and rates would be reviewed and adjusted annually.
Generally a pretty good idea, just needs some of the details ironed out, and ensure that all, including the snowbirds are paying for their connection to the network.
Meters would be installed in accordance with the provincial building code regulations which currently don’t require the connection to be made at the property boundary, rather they can be installed in the basement, which typically would be at a lower cost to the homeowner than installing a vault.
I was given the opportunity to raise my issues with the proposed water metering scheme. My main points were in opposition to the way the costs were being apportioned and the lack of detail in the proposal and the documentation supporting it. Being a community forum, the answers were general, but thankfully the City now has the opportunity to review the thoughts of the community on this matter. There were some impassioned pleas for the council to listen to the people, and overwhelmingly, few people were arguing or agreeing with the introduction of meters. Several were very against the idea of water metering, and offered number of points in defense of seeking alternative options; it’s hard to know if this is a general dislike of change and council decisions, or if the arguments posed are genuinely about water meters and fears that people have with the proposal as it stands.
It seems that much of the public discussion revolved around the existing network capacity in light of current and future demands from residential, commercial and industrial properties around town. The capacity of reservoirs, trunk mains and pump stations pose an upper limit on the water currently available to the city, and many people believe that the money invested in the water meter program could be better invested in upgrading some of this infrastructure.
I raised the question whether a petition against the bylaw could force it to a referendum, even though it was for a voluntary program, my point being that even those who were not planning on subscribing to this metered rate would somehow be disadvantaged, which on the surface seems inevitable, particularly in the first few years while the City is in the enticing mode. More after the jump…