Valemount residents who use the village water supply can expect the price of their water to increase in the New Year. Last week, the village council passed its first and second reading on changes to the price of water, effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Between residential and commercial spaces, water prices will generally be increasing by about 45 to 50 per cent. For a multiple dwelling residential home, for example, the price of water will increase $4.62 per month, or $55.39 over the year.

“The reason for this is with the development of the new water treatment plant, we need to have enough funds for the operation,” says Tom Dall, chief administrative officer for the village. “The rates are reflective of that, so we have clean, safe water.”

“In this case, we decided it was important to try to get the media and the public involved in the decision-making,” he says, before council continues with the third reading of the by-law.

But it would be difficult to change the rates now, he says. Over the next few years, when the village sees how the rates are working, it may be able to stabilize the rates more effectively, he says.

Better water treatment in small towns and villages has been mandated by the provincial government. Dall says people in the village may be concerned, but they have to realize that this is pressure on municipalities to act.

Last year, the village had to dip into its surplus to cover water infrastructure costs. “That’s obviously going to run low,” says Dall. This year’s estimate for water infrastructure was $285, 000 for the year. To keep up with that, Dall says, users of the water will have to pay more for it.

But even if it is a small monthly increase, that means a lot to people in Valemount, says Cathy Crofford, a Valemount resident and owner of Premier Coin Laundry.

“I think it comes at the wrong time, given the economic times,” says Crofford.

She says she and fellow small business owners have been hit hard recently, with both HST and the minimum wage increase.

Crofford owns 14 coin-operated washing machines. With the new prices, she will be spending roughly $680 more per year. She had already increased her cost for using the machines after HST came into effect, and now she says she may have to again, or even remove some machines altogether.

Her first step will be to speak with her landlord, she says. Her bills are essentially his bills, she says, and he now has the potential to lose tenants if rates continue to increase.

“It puts business owners in a tight spot,” she says. “You never know which cost is going to take that business out of the market.”

Water prices for a car wash, for example, will be $623 per year in 2011, or an additional $17.32 per month. Hotels will be paying an additional $1.59 per room, per month in 2011 and convenience stores will be paying almost an additional $75 per month, according to Village calculations.

Crofford argues that pensioners in the village may find it difficult to pay the higher rates. Changes like this one may in fact drive people out of town, she says.
“I agree it does have to pay for the water treatment plant, but if there’s no one left in town to use the water, what’s the point?”

But Dall says we all need to recognize that water is a valuable commodity to our community.

“We are treating it for their health and safety,” he says. He argues that many Valemount residents will be spending more on their cable or cell phone bills than on water.

“Which one would you want to lose first?”

For the past eight months, Dall says he has also been working with Columbia Basin Trust on a water conservation document to educate the public. From that, water meters could eventually be installed, but that would be a future plan, he says.

Crofford agrees that abuse of water may now become a prominent issue. Water meters could be a good plan, she says, but since they work basically the same way as taxes, the rates for water would have to be reasonable for it to be effective and helpful to people in the village.