Caught in the water conservation trap
By Fred Sherwin
property owners are about to get a rude awakening of their
own making. The city's finance and economic development committee recently
released a good news, bad news report on the state of
the city's water and sewer services.
good news is that Ottawa residents have continued to reduce
their water consumption, and in doing so, have seen a
slight reduction in their water and sewer bills.
bad new is that water conservation cost the city nearly
$19 million in 2014, and that despite a six per cent inrease
in water and sewer rates. In 2013, the shortfall was $13.5
million and in 2012 it was only $4.3 million. I'm starting
to see a trend here.
the short term, last year's deficit can be offset by dipping
into the city's water and sewer reserves. In the long
term, it's a ticking time bomb for city property owners.
drop in per capita consumption of water is more than just
a temporary trend. The advent of smaller toilet tanks,
high efficient shower heads and taps, and fewer people
watering their lawns, means water consumption will continue
to decline as will water and sewer revenue.
city's philosophy is, and always has been, user pay. In
other words water and sewer services should be paid by
water and sewer users, including infrastructure.
problem is that the city's water and sewer infrastructure
is in dire need of an upgrade, especially inside the Greenbelt
where a lot of the sewer pipes and watermains were built
in the aftermath of the Second World War.
dilema for city council is in trying to decide how the
bill should be paid and who should pay it.
of the arguments against amalgamation is that it was going
to force residents living in the former municipalities
of Gloucester, Cumberland, Nepean and Kanata to pay for
Ottawa's aging infrasturcture. Those worse fears have
become a reality for suburban ratepayers.
are only two ways to pay for maintaining and/or upgrading
water and sewer infrastructure - reserves or debt. Either
way, it's the taxpayer who eventually foots the bill.
Covering 19 million dollar deficits by dipping into reserves
is unsustainable, especially at the rate the deficits
have been increasing the past five years.
the city were to operate under a pay-as-you-go philosphy,
you would need to raise taxes an additional two per cent
to cover the deficit in the water and sewer rate supported
bottom line for now is that the more you conserve the
more you're going to pay either directly through higher
water and sewer rates, or indirectly through higher debt
servicing charges on ever increasing long term debt.
four years between 2009 and 2013 our long term debt for
water and sewer investments more than doubled from $77.6
million in 2009 to $187.7 million in 2013.
only way to eliminate the deficit in the water and sewer
rate supported budget is to be much more conservative
in estimating revenue based on a realistic projection,
and adjust the contribution from reserves, or the increase
in debt load, to reflect the declining revenue.
day is coming when the cost of maintaining and upgrading
aging water and sewer infrastructure is going to have
to be born on your property tax bill and not your water
and sewer bill. They are a fixed cost, easily estimateable,
and are necessary to each and every non-rural resident
who washes their hands, takes a shower, or flushes their
cost to process waste water and provide clean water through
adequate water treatment should be born on the user based
on their consumption. The less you use the less you should
have to pay without fear of rate increases triple and
quadruple the rate of inflation.
odds that the city will change the way it pays for water
and sewer services anytime soon is slim at best. Which
means residents can expect to see further increases in
the water and sewer rate until such time they reach the
limit on their conservation efforts.
3 p.m., April 4)
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