The writer of the letter to the editor “Implementing WMU makes no sense” (July 19) certainly has a bee in his bonnet about this issue. Most of what he discusses in his letter has been presented to council in email and we responded in detail, multiple times, however, it appears he wasn’t satisfied by the answers.
The writer is correct: Rossland has not implemented conservation pricing despite wanting to do so. Unlike his home city of Victoria, our staff is very small, and we’ve been very busy with other projects. The intent has always been to establish conservation pricing, and while our current CFO (on the job for less than two years) believes she can do it effectively, her predecessors were less confident. Another reason we haven’t done conservation pricing is because with the meter readers broken for the last year we’ve been estimating water usage, so conservation pricing made absolutely no sense. Now, in anticipation of the upgrades that will provide the proper tools, council has directed staff to create a conservation water pricing structure.
Water management experts have told us that manual reading will not get us accurate enough info to be able to institute conservation pricing because reading once a quarter or even once a month will vary a lot based on the day, the time-of-day the reading is done and the order of the households visited. It will not be precise enough for conservation pricing which can work on volume thresholds, seasonal pricing and/or time-of-day pricing. Plus, reading manually has been estimated to take three weeks of an employee’s time each time they are read. We’d need to hire a new person for that job, thus adding a union salary and full benefits, use of city vehicle — it all adds up.
Water leaks happen on the city’s lines and the homeowner’s lines. The new upgrade will provide information on leaks on homeowners’ properties. These leaks cost the property owner a lot of money, wastes water and causes excess demand on our filtration system. We will need zone meters to find leaks on the city’s lines. That will be an additional expense and is part of our asset management plan for the future.
$300,000 was already budgeted for this project. The balance will come from our gas tax reserve (federal and provincial money). We continue to look for grant money too. The $26,000 subscription will be charged to homeowners but we are increasing rates anyway because the service has never been self-sufficient. Water prices are artificially low. Consumers have never paid the true cost for the water and sewer infrastructure and we intend to rectify this situation so the actual value of getting clean water to your tap is understood. Kootenay residents use more water than almost anyone in the world and pay very little for it. Climate change means the abundance we take for granted today may not always be available.
Council did not approve the water meter upgrades as presented initially because we wanted more information on improving our current system, flat rates and manual reading. The actual motion at the June 12 meeting read: “Resolved that council directs staff to investigate the feasibility of ways to improve the current water metering system, including amending the variable charge for residential water consumption to a flat rate.”
The July meeting was set for the only day and time that we could get a quorum and have key staff present, some of whom were missing at the mid-June meeting. Summer is notoriously difficult time for meetings in any organization. Without a City Hall, we also struggled to find a place and time to meet. Due to the Follies, the Miners Hall is not available except on Sundays and Mondays and Monday, July 2 was a holiday. We wanted to move the issue forward because if the project was approved, installation needed to happen before the first snowfall.
At the July 4 meeting we considered additional info in a staff report, heard more comments, asked questions of staff and a water management expert, and had a lively discussion amongst council and members of the public. For the majority of council, information indicating manual reading would not provide enough useful information to help save water or enable the city to implement conservation pricing was convincing. Six council members participated in the discussion. The majority (four including a councillor via telephone, who confirmed his vote in email) were convinced by what we heard and voted for the upgrades after considering the material and the discussion.
The writer’s comments about governance and how we fund various projects is his opinion and he is entitled to it. Clearly, he disagrees with our decisions but many of his comments are unfair and inaccurate. He has not been present at many meetings, so he does not have the benefit of witnessing how we make decisions. However, for those who agree, there is an election coming up and the voters of Rossland are free to “throw the bums out” if they are unhappy with the decisions this council has made over the last four years.