As a participant in Columbia Basin Trust’s Water Smart Initiative, Valemount has begun monitoring water usage at the bulk water supply a few years ago, and is committed to reducing its water use by 20 per cent by 2015. The Village recently received funding to do an assessment to see if it would make financial sense to install water meters throughout the village, and the assessment’s final report, prepared by Urban Systems of Kamloops, was submitted to Council on February 12.
The report notes some interesting numbers. For example, it calculates that an average of 700 litres of sewage per person, per day, is created in Valemount. That is equivalent to about 7 baths, or 35 flushes of a toilet. That sounds like a lot of water, and that wouldn’t even include the water used for lawns and gardens, since that wouldn’t normally go into the sewer. Also, it notes that the Village’s own Water Smart Action Plan estimates that 25 per cent of the Village’s water supply is not accounted for, and may be lost to undetected leakage.
The assessment assumes that a metered system (you pay for what you use) would decrease usage by 20 per cent in the summer, and 10 per cent year round (a conservative estimate based on what has happened in similar areas that have recently implemented water meters), and then calculated some savings, based on the decreased use of power, and lowered operational costs for the water and sewage plants. There are no capital expenditures that might be deferred in Valemount, which is often a source of cost savings for other areas. The assessment then calculates the net benefit/cost (and payback period) for the Village if it were to fund the capital costs (purchase and installation of the meters and reading system and software, estimated at about $430,000) in varying proportions.
The final report recommends that the Village go ahead with implementing a universal metering program if at least 50 per cent of the initial capital costs can be funded by senior government
and that the Village create an education program to introduce the rationale for metering to the community. If the Village only has to cover 50 per cent of the initial capital costs, there would be a net benefit of over $100,000 over 20 years, and a payback period of 6 years.
Clearly there would be some work to do: finding a program or grant to cover $215,000 or more, and securing a loan or other funding for the remaining portion, setting up an implementation plan and an education plan, adjusting bylaws (like the Water System Connection Fees and Water Supply Rates bylaws to name a few), deciding on a price per volume of water. There are other considerations that are not addressed in this report. For example, how do we find leaks in the municipal system, and how much will it cost to repair them? How will this affect businesses that use large volumes of water, and will there be assistance for residents/businesses that need help decreasing their usage (like programs to help with purchasing low-flow faucets, shower heads and toilets, timers and irrigation systems for lawns and gardens, et cetera). Hopefully all these things will be incorporated into an implementation and education plan if the Village decides to follow the recommendations.
But there is one more important note in the report that the Village should consider carefully. Water meters are normally installed inside of people’s homes. That means a disruption to people’s privacy, and possibly to their living space, and the report notes that “the importance of engaging the services of a highly-competent installer with excellent customer service skills cannot be overstated as fundamental to a successful water metering program…” Especially right now, with confusion, anger and distrust surrounding the installation of BC Hydro’s new meters, the Village should handle the issue of metering our water very carefully.