Abbotsford speaks out on meters

The 2004 Water Conservation Survey conducted jointly by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee shows that almost a quarter of municipalities that responded have residential metering, and more than half are considering it. Agricultural metering is being used in about 25 percent of communities, while about 13 percent are considering it. More than 65 percent of communities have metered their ICI (industrial, commercial, institutional) connections, while more than 15 percent are considering doing so.

As noted in the 2004 Canada West Foundation report Drop by Drop: Urban Water Conservation Practices in Western Canada, “A tool highly advocated as an effective method of reducing water consumption is the use of metering, which has been an important tool in showing consumers how much water they consume, and is the first step in establishing an effective pricing system [Tate]. The economic component of water conservation operates on the assumption that environmentally responsible behavior can be induced through economic incentives and disincentives [Howarth]. Charging a price for water that reflects its true value would provide consumers with an incentive to use water more efficiency and reduce waste.

“In a survey conducted as part of the University of Victoria POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, results show that lower water usage roughly corresponded with individual metering and volume based pricing. In the twenty cities surveyed, the lowest per capita water users were cities that employed metering and a volume based pricing structure [Brandes]. However, without an appropriate pricing structure, increasing the price may merely result in a considerable amount of the conservation burden being placed on low-income households, whose water bills compose a relatively higher percentage of their income compared to wealthier households [Renwick and Archibald]. This equity problem can be overcome by devising block-pricing schemes in which basic needs are provided at a lower cost [Sauri]. A barrier to using pricing as a tool is the perception of water as a human entitlement, rather than as a commodity that should be priced according to its value [Howarth].

“Significantly increasing the price charged for water is not likely to be a popular option and will, in turn, meet with stiff political resistance. This points to the value of combining economic incentives with other measures such as public education programs and water use restrictions.”

The Abbotsford Experience:

The former District of Matsqui has had meters for almost 20 years. The former District of Abbotsford installed meters on a retrofit basis in 1994/95/96. New subdivisions had been installing meters for about ten years before that. The two districts amalgamated in 1995 to form the City of Abbotsford, which requires all residences and commercial and industrial buildings to have water meters.

“We believe meters bring control to consumption,” says Jim Duckworth, Manager Engineering Services. “Leaks can be detected more readily through meter reading.”

A major challenge experienced in the early days was installing meters in residences. “This was a mistake,” says Duckworth. “Access could not always be guaranteed, and often there were extraordinary plumbing costs associated with finding the correct fit in the residence. The ideal location for meters and generally accepted industry standard is on the municipal side of the property line, on the lot frontage, or the frontage that provides easiest access for meter readers and service staff.”

Duckworth encourages municipalities without meters to “get into a meter installation and reading program as soon as possible. To start, revise Subdivision Bylaws requiring meters on all new service connections. Then carry out a cost/benefit analysis for a retrofit program for existing services. Include residential commercial, and industrial users.

“Educate your residents that “treated” water is a non-renewable resource. There’s nothing worse than somebody washing a driveway down because it has some leaves or a bit of salt or dirt on it. Be proactive with water-use restrictions in peak demand seasons. And keep the rates at a level that discourages waste.”

Duckworth concludes by saying that “If there is a good solid financial and environmental sustainability rationale attached to any recommendations, the final decision is easier for the politicians. Don’t treat them as the enemy—they are making the multi-million dollar decisions. Don’t treat the public as the enemy either—they are the user and have a right to healthy, reasonably priced water.”