Council debates merit of water meters for Nelson

City council heard an exhaustive presentation on water meters and followed it up with a lengthy discussion on Wednesday in council chambers. - Megan Cole photo
City council heard an exhaustive presentation on water meters and followed it up with a lengthy discussion on Wednesday in council chambers.
— image credit: Megan Cole photo

The prevalence of water metering may be on the rise in Canada and BC, but city council is divided on whether Nelson should follow the trend.

During a special committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday, council debated water rates and meters in the city.

Early into a presentation by Econnics consultant Kirk Stinchcombe, Mayor John Dooley said it would take a lot of convincing for him to consider introducing meters.

According to data presented, as of 2009 in Canada 72.1 per cent of single family residential homes have a water meter.

While BC is lagging with only 40.2 per cent of homes having meters, Stinchcombe said metering is on the rise and grew by 7.6 per cent between 2006 and 2009.

The necessity of water meters for Nelson was questioned throughout Stinchcombe’s presentation and was also addressed by chief financial officer Colin McClure.

“Nelson is unique in the sense that unlike Castlegar, which has to pump its water up out of the river and then distribute it to the community, ours is gravity fed,” said McClure.

A metering system like the one being implemented in Castlegar is meant to address the costs that come from pumping water to the community. McClure said most of the cost incurred by the City of Nelson comes from capital cost and water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.

Until recently, the city has implemented steady increases to water and sewer rates to address an infrastructure deficit.

“Cities both provincially and nationally have not looked at these capital costs,” said McClure. “Some communities may appear to have lower rates now, but consider what they are going to have to put in down the road. You will see them start to catch up to our rates.”

Stinchcombe said implementing a universal water meter system in the city would cost $2.3 million, while installing meters for the industrial, commercial and institutional buildings would cost $625,025.

While Dooley and councillors Robin Cherbo and Bob Adams questioned the viability of water meters in Nelson, councillors Paula Kiss, Deb Kozak, Candace Batycki and Donna Macdonald spoke about the various positive implications of water meter use.

Kiss said a metering system would be more equitable than the current system because residents and business owners had more control over their bill. Based on their actions to conserve water, the bill could be reduced monthly.

City manager Kevin Cormack and McClure made several recommendations to council on water rates and metering including reducing or eliminating water rates for affordable housing units (apartments, mobile homes and secondary suites), a conservation rate or rebate for installing water saving measures like low flow toilets, lowering the rate increase, increasing current water meter rates and expanding institutional, commercial and industrial water meters.

Kiss suggested council move quickly on rolling out a plan for expanding the industrial, commercial and institutional water meters after receiving conflicting information from Cormack, McClure and director of operations and engineering Allen Fillion about funds being withheld by senior government because of water meter use.

“There is some questions whether some of the funding we apply for different projects is maybe being withheld because we are a non-metered community,” said McClure. “We are trying to look at zone or strategic metering including for industrial, commercial and institutional properties to show that we are working towards it and not opposed to meters completely.”

Fillion said there may be reason to believe Castlegar received provincial government funding last year that was denied to Nelson, because of their water meter program.

The economic benefits may be up for debate, but McClure said the city can gather a lot of valuable information about water use and loss (via leakage) through meters.

Concerns arose from Kiss when she suggested the presentation failed to address the environmental and social benefits of introducing water meters.

While the City is fortunate to have high quality water coming from Five Mile Creek, Fillion said there was an incident in the spring after a wind storm which unearthed trees causing increased water turbidity.

The city will be looking at a secondary water source in 2016 and is considering Grohman Creek for a supply in addition to a potential hydro project.

“There would be a business case on conservation if Nelson did consider Kootenay Lake for a secondary water source,” said McClure. “The whole idea that we have gravity fed system means the amount of water that gets to your door isn’t necessarily the cost, it’s the capital component. If we had a secondary source and had to pump out of Kootenay Lake, then yes we would have a higher variable cost, and there would be a better case for installing meters.”

Fillion said there would also be additional costs of building filtration for water from Kootenay Lake which could be avoided by drawing from Grohman Creek.



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