Water Meters in Castlegar

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!

Water Meter Party


From the presentation:

Why Meter?

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

Dripping Faucet 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.

Community Discussion


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…

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Transforming Rural Communities – Pedestrians

walkingOne of the great things about being in a rural town or city is the opportunities to enjoy walking, out in the woods, the bush, by a river, in the mountains, all at your doorstep. Unfortunately, many rural towns are poorly laid out for walking, and provide little or no sidewalk amenity, that walking can be difficult or even dangerous.

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to walk along a meandering country road, stopping to pick the blackberries growing by the side of the road, but equally, one thing that cities have got right is valuing sidewalks and footpaths as part of the streetscape, even enforcing the installation of them during subdivision of land. Most North Americans are more aware than ever before that they should probably be out doing more exercise, and that walking is a good form of low impact fitness training. When you sit at a desk or drive a truck all day, you need to get out for a walk at some stage.


Why Sidewalks?

Where there is a density of population, or even a common transport route between areas of residence and business, sidewalks should be considered to separate and protect pedestrians from vehicular traffic. Sidewalks shouldn’t be installed on every street, but foot and bicycle traffic routes should be identified early in the planning process and pathways installed to suit.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune shows how many residents in rural feeling subdivisions don’t want sidewalks…

Sidewalks crack suburb tranquillity | Chicago Tribune

Although sidewalks are fine with many communities, adding them to existing neighborhoods can create a firestorm. In Western Springs, people have complained about the cost.

In Mokena, residents in an older part of town opposed sidewalks because they would ruin the rural feel. And in Northbrook, more than 170 homeowners have signed petitions against having sidewalks poured on their blocks after the town budgeted $6 million to add them in targeted areas across the village. Some say sidewalks could disturb trees and landscaping, and others fear who might come sauntering through their neighborhoods.

walkingThe article goes on to bemoan the various impacts of sidewalk on all aspects of life, and why lots of people are fighting against it. I love the arguments relating to fear, what’s with that? Do predators only walk on sidewalks? Are they more safety conscious than the average person?

The safety aspects can’t be ignored, especially on highly trafficked roads and highways. Through town, here in Castlegar, Columbia Avenue (Highway 22) has sidewalk on at least one side of the road for most of it’s length, but in those areas where it is only on one side, the other side of the road is downright dangerous to walk on, with residences fronting onto the highway.

Here’s a useful checklist for why we should be installing sidewalk…

PEDSAFE : recommended guidelines/priorities for sidewalks and walkways

Typically, communities should focus on:

  1. improving conditions for people who are currently walking (including improved accessibility to sidewalk facilities for pedestrians with disabilities),
  2. increasing levels of walking, and
  3. reducing the number of crashes involving pedestrians. Setting targets will help in the development of criteria for installing and retrofitting sidewalks.

The Engineering Side of Sidewalks

Sidewalks are generally constructed from concrete, and in some cases asphalt, they provide a smooth, easy cleaned surface for pedestrians of all ages and levels of mobility to navigate safely through an area. People with limited mobility, particularly those with walking difficulties, those that are wheelchair mobile only, and those with limited vision are able to use the public space of the road reserve in a manner that poses less risk or threat of injury when there are sidewalks installed. An interesting statistic is that 20% of the US population has a disability, and 30% of the population doesn’t drive (source Pedsafe). These people need suitable facilities to walk.

pedestrianSidewalks are often, but not always accompanied by curb and gutter. Several subdivisions I was involved in designing in Australia retained stormwater swales and culverts, no curb and gutter, and managed to include an extensive network of footpaths and bike paths. It just requires a bit of innovative thinking.

However, curb and gutter, or some type of concrete structure, an edge beam perhaps, will help define the road width better and protect the traveling surface from raveling and breaking apart. Roads with curb and gutter usually have less stormwater issues, with low points being drained by a system of catch basins and pipes. Many rural residential roads could be easily improved through the installation of defined drainage paths and well landscaped paths.

Many people think that because I’m a Civil Engineer, everything must be in straight lines, perpendicular or parallel, perfectly geometric circles to the fourth decimal place…

I got over that years ago.


Subdivision design is not about straight lines and perfectly geometric shapes, it’s about creating a sense of place, with a design that does work geometrically, (cause we do have codes and standards to meet), but also meets a standard of aesthetic that is usually found in the real of landscape architects, not engineers. Pathways and sidewalks are an easy part of the urban fabric to bend and twist to suit the site, sweeping around existing trees, winding through the road reserve corridor, adding interest to the urban realm.

The Sidewalk Solution

There is no one right answer to the how’s where’s and when’s of sidewalk installation.

Most new developments with a density of more that five lots to the hectare, (half acres lots) should have sidewalk at least on one side of the road. Existing developments without dedicated sidewalks should be considered for formalizing one side of the road right of way for walking. In Castlegar, BC where I live, many of the roads are without curb and gutter or even ditches, as the underlying material is so sandy that 95% of the runoff is easily infiltrated to groundwater. This makes installing concrete sidewalks difficult, but perhaps even gravel paths would suffice in many of these areas. Alternative surfaces can and should be investigated and raised as an option to the local municipality.

A community without walking paths is less likely to walk.

Resources: Pedsafe – US Department of Transportation

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Universal Water Metering

The City of Castlegar is considering across the board installation of water meters for all properties within the city’s water supply district. This is a discussion that I find a little amusing, coming from Australia, in the grip of a 10 year drought, with year round water restrictions so intense that famous beaches no longer have the showers operable, and washing cars can only be done by hand with a bucket, (no hoses) or at a facility that recycles it’s wash water.

The Need and the Cost

Castlegar doesn’t seem to have critical water quantity issues that would warrant demand management, and from the newspaper report, it hardly seems to be a solid set of arguments that the City is claiming. Charging residents over $200 a year for water service is not a big deal, as long as the city’s infrastructure costs are being covered. Water is generally not expensive to provide, pumping, treating and maintaining the infrastructure runs at around a couple of cents a day per house, particularly where water is plentiful, but the long term replacement costs are the hidden danger.

But assuming that we need to cover the replacement cost of pumps, pipes, valves, treatment facilities and allow for upgrades as the city increases in size, the question remains, is the amount of water consumed really the problem? Or is the age of the system more of an issue? Does an extra couple of hundred litres a day wear out equipment so much faster that we need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars setting up a metering system that will continue to cost tax payers into the future?

The average residential unit should have to pay their fair portion of the cost of running the water system, where or not they use the water. In my mind, the fixed fee portion should be the greater of the two costs, as the greatest cost faced by the service provider is not in the water, but in the infrastructure. Water metering is seen in Australia as a measure for conserving precious water reserves and has little to do with conserving the cost of maintaining existing infrastructure, sure it may reduce the need for building a bigger reservoir or treatment plant, but typically the size of these structures has been calculated on an existing population, projected growth and water usage, so the only thing that is likely to change drastically is population if everything else remains the same.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the city is getting funding from the province for this initiative which will, in the short term offset the costs of implementing this program, (about $135,000 a year in funding). However all long term costs of maintaining, reading and auditing meters will be borne entirely by the city. Just because the provincial or federal governments are giving out money, doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. I can bet that this program wouldn’t have any support if it were entirely self funded by the City.

Read more after the jump….

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Grandview Heights Through to Next Stage

The Grandview Heights subdivision has passed another hurdle tonight; the public hearing process for rezoning is now closed after the City of Castlegar council noted that no objection was made regarding the nature or location of the development, rather, concerns from all parties were mostly regarding the location and funding of site accesses.

No doubt options will be raised and debated over the coming weeks as City staff, the engineers and the developers meet with the BC Ministry of Transport to discuss intersection treatments for 37th Street and Highway 22 (Columbia Ave) as well as options for the extension of 14th Ave down to Highway 22.

I’ve written before about some of the background and my thoughts on this development, I wrote this, and I believe it still stands…

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Trash to Treasure

How is your Earth Day going? You don’t need to dress up like a frog to do something for the planet, although you might get some publicity that way, but today is a day to think about the things we do, and what our alternatives are.

Have you ever thought about all the things we throw or flush away? What could they be used for, could they have a second life, or be turned into resources for another commodity?

For much of what we throw away, this is true. But also we tend to keep a lot of stuff that we don’t use anymore, It’s Earth Day today and for all it’s worth, we’re trying to do our bit. The moving boxes that we have no more use for, to the recycling centre. The organic waste from kitchen scraps go into our compost heap. Most of our furniture is second hand, borrowed or inherited. New materials were not consumed to make our dining table.

This makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Tomorrow is Trash to Treasure day in Castlegar and surrounding communities. It’s kind of an organized pick up for spring cleaning items that someone in the neighborhood may have a use for. This is the ultimate form of recycling, there is not further processing, the new owner picks it up from the previous owner’s curbside and everyone’s happy.

What are you putting out for Trash to Treasure?

My wishlist of things I might find is as follows:

  • Tables-  preferably timber and rectangular.
  • Countertops – I want to make an office workspace with a countertop type table. L-shaped would be great.
  • Desk lamps – I prefer the light from a small desk lamp when working on the computer.
  • Kids bikes – Preferably pink, (two girls)
  • Shade Cloth – this will keep our house cool in summer, (we’re not getting an air conditioner).
  • Line Trimmer – This may be a stretch, but if anyone has one….

Robyn most definitely has more items to add, but this is the list of things I’ll be looking for.

Another avenue to investigate for finding or giving away used items, is on FreeCycle:


This is one of many community driven peer to peer networks of free or very affordable swapping. The rules vary, but members can post their items for free or put in requests, here’s a recent article about what you can achieve through sites like this. Obviously it’s a catch-22 when there are more members, there may be more stuff advertised, but you have to be quick!

For my readers in the Castlegar Area, click on the following button to get on the FreeCycle Castlegar List, and enjoy regular updates of items being given away, and items wanted that you may have lying around! There is usually a couple of posts a week from people wanting stuff, or with items to give away. Check out Castlegar Freecycle.

Click here to join castlegarfreecycle - Free Cycle Castlegar
Click to join castlegarfreecycle

Freecycleâ„¢: Changing the World One Gift at a Time

Think globally, recycle locally. The Freecycle Network is open to all communities and to all individuals who want to participate. Freecycle groups are moderated by local volunteers from across the globe who facilitate each local group – grassroots at its best!

These kind of sites are often in the news, mainly because they go against everything commercial and materialistic within our Western world, here’s a recent example, the whole article is a good read…

Wisconsin State Journal

Betsy and Gayel Larsen, of Oregon, were able to build a three-stall horse barn almost entirely with stuff obtained from people trying to get rid of the items.

How? By scouring a growing number of new, small nonprofit Web sites. Using these “swap” sites, the Larsens found materials including plywood panels, metal siding and nine new gallons of blue Sears Ultra Weatherbeater Exterior paint for which they paid $20.

What are you doing this Earth Day weekend? Give something away, recycle something, and do something for the Earth.

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Burning Off or Composting?

We’ve got a pile of leaves in our backyard that I don’t know what to do with. Winter is over, (OK, so it might still snow), but spring has sprung, the flowers are coming out and so are the gardeners.

This weekend marks to start of burning off month, where residents can mozy on down to Castlegar City Hall, pick up a burning license, pull out the gas can and light up a big fire.

Where I come from, they stopped this years ago; but around here, the residential density, the amount of organic garden waste generated over the winter months and prevailing winds make burning off a reality for most residents. Leaves, branches and grass cuttings are pretty much fair game, with the pallor of burning leaves hanging around town today.

Is this more global warming fuel? Or is it an acceptable practice in the 21st century? If we can find a way to get this stuff to compost, at least we can use it to grow fruit and veggies in years to come.

The regional district is proposing a composting facility across the river, will this be able to handle the seasonal influx of leave matter? Most backyard composting facilities are not big enough to digest a pile of leaves as big as ours, does anyone have any tips to get things going with leaf matter?


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Bedouin Workers and Coffee Shop Etiquette

I’m interested in the distributed office model, (see Meet Mike, the Semi-Nomadic Engineer and How to Run a Mobile Office for under $1500), not just because I like coffee, but because it offers a mobile workforce minimal commutes and hopefully a better quality of life. However, sometimes you have to look at the other side of things…
Read more after the jump…

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thermostat imageThis weekend we moved into our new house in Castlegar, and we love it. One of our aims is to make the house as comfortable as possible in all seasons and to do that in as environmnetally friendly a manner as possible. Now don’t get me wrong, the house is totally comfortable and livable as it is, but we do want to be able to reduce our heating bill, and as we don’t intend having air conditioning, we’d like to employ as much additional passive solar technology as possible.

It’s still cool here during the nights, (last night it got down to -10) so we are pretty conscious of economically maintaining a comfortable temperature, even though I am enjoying the hot tub!

I recently wrote about greening an existing house, and a great resource for ideas here, and wanted to expand on this idea with a bit of self experimentation.

My first step over the weekend was to install a digital thermostat. The existing thermostat was a mercury switch type, and I wanted control! So a couple of weeks ago, before we moved in, I got a digital one half price at Canadian Tire (a Noma 5+1+1 thermostat, down to $30). It took about half an hour to install and program up. You could tell the difference instantly, well ok, not instantly, but you get the drift. Waking up the next morning after a good cool night’s sleep to a warming house was a treat after living in a basement suite under someone else’s heat control!

We’ve got a whole lot of other ideas for performance improvements, it would be interesting to get some funding for a bit of research into the use of small scale cost effective energy saving and comfort improving technologies. For the thermostat, it would be interesting to run a data logger with indoor and outdoor thermometers and measure the run time, and btu’s of the furnace.


As we installed more energy saving ideas, it would be good to have a record of where we had come from and the improvements that we’ve gained.

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