As well as Executive Meeting last Tuesday (delayed from Monday because of the wrap-up of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Saskatoon), we had a Special Council Meeting for the third reading to pass the new water rates.
As I've mentioned before, I voted against the new rates for several reasons, one of which is that I've seen no attempt by administration to deal with increasing water costs by doing anything except raise water rates. In this case, the increase is greater for residential users than for commercial users, another reason why I couldn't support this increase.
One of the more disturbing pieces of information to come from administration is that, since 2006, the amount of water not accounted for, and thus not paid for, has increased by 80% - from 42 million cubic feet to 76 million cubic feet. In the same time, residential use has decreased, probably because people are trying to keep their water bills manageable by reducing their usage. So while those who are paying are trying to conserve, the amount of water that isn't being paid for is increasing, and this increasing waste is being paid for by city residents - no wonder the average residential water bill has increased by 50% over the same time period.
So where does this unaccounted water go? Some of it is in leaks, some is through water main breaks, some is lost through fighting fires, some is due to incorrect water meter readings, and some is used in city-run facilities that don't pay for their water use, like City Hall, the golf course, the soccer centre, the Rawlinson Centre, and the City Yards.
It's time that we took a look at this, to stop pouring money down the drain. To me, it makes sense to reduce the volume of unaccounted and unpaid for water. I made a motion at Tuesday's meeting, asking administration to provide us with the volume of water that is used, but not paid for, at city facilities. Although I was told last year that there were no water meters at these facilities, I've since found out, from a more reliable information source, that not only are there meters at, for example, the golf course, the soccer centre, and the Rawlinson Centre, but they are read on a regular basis.
To me, it only makes sense that these facilities account and pay for their water usage. While there will be those who think that, because they are city facilities, we would only be moving money from one city pocket to another, we should be including these costs when we're calculating user fees, so that the user fees truly reflect the operating costs of the facility. After all, if the library and the Girl Guide Hall can pay for the water they use, why shouldn't golfers?
For facilities like City Hall, where we don't charge user fees, we should be aware of what volume of water we use, and encourage staff to be thoughtful in their use. Greater awareness of how much is being used could lead to reductions, for example, by not watering the grass around City Hall the day after it rains. Or perhaps each department should be paying for their water use, as part of the budgeting process - the taxpayer would still be footing the bill, but through their taxes, not through their water bills.
We should also develop a plan to address the areas where water is lost. For example, we should track water main breaks, and put those streets with high frequency of water main breaks on a priority list for water main replacement. We should be tracking where leaks occur, and fix them. What is being done to improve the accuracy of meter readings? Just like fixing a leaky tap or a running toilet in your home can lower your water bill, the city should be trying to lower its bills, not just pass the increased costs on to residents.
I'm looking forward to the report from administration, and I hope that council will then take meaningful steps to make payment for water use more equitable.
"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." - Ben Franklin