Today’s Poll

Nelson Council Debates Water Metering

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
November 22nd, 2012

A consultant’s report strongly recommends water metering for the City of Nelson. AquaVic Water Solutions presented the report, commissioned by Council and paid for with a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust, to Council on November 19.

The consultants predict a 10% to 30% reduction in water usage with metering, and a 20% reduction in residential demand. It proposes that an initial step might be to meter only businesses, institutions, and industry.

The consultants estimate that setting up a metering program for the city would cost $2,296,000.To read the report, click on the attachment at the end of this article.

“It makes no sense”— Councillor Adams

Mayor John Dooley and Councillors Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo spoke against water metering, saying that the city would not save any money because its main expense is the fixed cost of distribution, i.e. pipes in the ground. Nelson’s water system is gravity fed, therefore requiring no pumping, and we don’t have a water treatment facility to maintain. In other words, no matter what residents pay for water, the costs will remain the same for the city.

“I know Castlegar went for water meters because they have to pump water,” Councillor Adams told The Nelson Daily, “it makes no sense to spend $2.5 million on putting in water meters we don’t need. I could certainly see some water meters in the bigger users, like city hall and other government buildings and maybe the schools, so we know how much water we are using.  Our water rates are set and we need that money to run the water system.”

Adams is referring to the fact that taxation for water is separate from property taxes in Nelson. Homeowners receive a separate annual bill for water, and everyone pays the same amount.

“It’s inevitable”—Councillor Kiss

Councillor Paula Kiss thinks the flat rate for all residents ignores questions of social equity and the environment. She thinks the billing system for water should be the same as for other utilities.

“I asked (Nelson Hydro General Manager) Alex Love,” she says, “how much it actually costs to distribute electricity. I said my average hydro bill is about $40. How much of that could actually be distribution? He said about $30. The same could be said for natural gas. Distribution is a lot more expensive than the actual capture of it.”

Kiss questions why hydro and natural gas are metered and water is not.  She says the current system discriminates against people who conserve water.

“We are in fact making residents pay the full cost of that utility, but we do it on this arbitrary per household rate which means that nobody has any control over what their bill is.” 

Kiss says that method is not only socially inequitable but also environmentally unsound.

“As long as Nelson rations water in the summer we cannot say we have an abundance of water because when times are critical, we don’t. So if metering water is the most effective means of conservation, then we have to do it. It is inevitable.

“I just went to a climate change adaptation workshop in Castlegar two weeks ago,” Kiss continues, “and they are not even talking about stopping climate change any more. They know it is coming and what we have to do is deal with it now.”

City Council and staff will be participating in a meeting on November 26 to set residential and commercial water rates for 2013. The metering report, on which Council has made no decisions to date, will be factored into that discussion.

To read the full consultant report on water metering, click on the attachment below.

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