The City of Charlottetown has lifted its annual summer water restrictions, but the group that monitors the city’s water supply is urging residents to think twice before they leave taps running. I would still always encourage that people continue to conserve water, said Sarah Wheatley, watershed coordinator for the Winter River-Tracadie Bay Watershed Association. Even though it feels like fall, it’s a little while yet before the water table actually starts to go up. The group has been monitoring the Winter River system for the past four years. There are two springs between the two major well fields that go dry every year, she said. But in the past week, two springs near the Charlottetown airport have gone dry for the first time since they began monitoring them. It’s obviously a very dry year if those springs are going dry, she said.
A long-awaited report from City of Ottawa staff recommends changes to how the city charges for drinking water, takes away sewage, and deals with water from big storms. While the city promises that most households will see hardly any change on their bills and those who use very little water will see their bills go up, those who consume a lot of water could pay less. That’s because the amount charged on water bills will no longer be based solely on how much water a home or business consumes. The city wants to introduce a fixed cost to the bill because staff say, for the most part, the cost of operating and maintaining the water system doesn’t vary with the amount of water used. Staff also propose phasing in a storm water fee of about $27 to $53 per year on the property taxes of those who are on private wells and septic systems and don’t pay water bills.
The city’s auditor recommended the city introduce a fixed portion to water rates back in 2008, said deputy city treasurer Isabelle Jasmin, because it’s a best practice. Now with automated meter reading technology, the city can do something more sophisticated with rates than simply charge for water used, she said. This exercise wasn’t about raising more money, added Coun. Instead, it’s about distributing the costs of running the system more fairly, he said. But with most Ottawa households set to pay $17.50 per month for water and sewer costs, no matter what, the new system creates the counterintuitive situation where people who use very little water could end up paying more. For instance, the city laid out a scenario in which a single person in a small urban house, who uses five cubic meters of water a month now, pays $20 on her bill. Under the new rates, she would pay $33.
Of the more than 700 people who showed up at eight consultations, ninety per cent were rural residents who didn’t pay water bills. The session in West Carleton even hit capacity and several dozen people had to be turned away. The city says everyone benefits from the infrastructure that deals with runoff from big storms, but it heard many rural property owners describe how their large yards actually absorb rain, said Chernushenko. That’s why it settled on charging rural homeowners a discounted storm water fee $4.44 per month for detached and semi-detached houses, compared with $8.88 for homes connected to city water and will phase in that fee on property tax bills over four years. We wrote it, rewrote in a way that could be as fair as possible, that could take into account all the exceptions people brought to our attention, said Chernushenko of the new rate proposal.